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Messi leads Argentina to 2-0 win over Mexico at World Cup

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/world-cup-soccer-sports-argentina-middle-east-afa23fdf3ed1400048f81226b7e49291

LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — Lionel Messi was almost in tears as he grabbed and shook his jersey in front of Argentina’s celebrating fans, then blew a kiss and looked to the sky.

With one of the most important goals of his career, Messi led Argentina to a 2-0 victory over Mexico on Saturday to ignite his team’s World Cup chances.

His dream of winning soccer’s biggest prize in likely his last attempt is still alive.

“It’s a weight off our shoulders,” Messi said. “It gives us joy and peace of mind to start again.”

Messi took a touch from Angel Di Maria’s pass across the face of the area and drove a low shot from 25 meters (yards) into the bottom corner to give Argentina the lead in the 64th minute.

His arms outstretched, he ran toward the team’s supporters who were celebrating behind the goal and was soon mobbed by his teammates. He whirled his arms in an emotional response to scoring his 93rd — and perhaps most crucial — international goal.

Substitute Enzo Fernandez added a second goal in the 87th minute, ensuring Argentina bounced back from a 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia that ranked as one of the World Cup’s biggest ever upsets.

“We lived with discomfort and kept the defeat in the opening match in our minds,” Messi said. “The days were very long.

“We were eager to have the chance to turn the situation around and luckily we won.”

Argentina is second in Group C ahead of its last match against first-place Poland on Wednesday, and might need to win it to advance.

“We can’t let our guard down now,” Messi said. “All of our matches are finals now. We can’t mess up.”

It was an eighth World Cup goal for Messi, the same number scored in the tournament by rival Cristiano Ronaldo and also Diego Maradona — the Argentina great with whom he is so often compared.

For some, Messi needs to win the World Cup — the only major title missing from his collection — to join the ranks of Pele and Maradona as soccer’s greatest ever players. Thanks to this win, it could still happen.

“We already know for many years he is the world’s best player,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said. “Messi should enjoy this World Cup. All fans enjoy seeing him play.”

Scaloni made five changes from the Saudi Arabia game in a bid to inject some more energy into the team but initially they made little difference in what proved to be a tense game lacking in quality. Argentina’s build-up play was slow and Mexico had little problem snuffing out its opponent’s attacks.

Messi was often seen walking around the field and mostly found himself with two defenders on him each time he got the ball. Frustration was starting to show on his face before the first half had even finished as he implored his teammates to relax.

Indeed, the goal Messi scored came from one of the first times he found himself in space.

Argentina’s fans inside the 89,000-seat Lusail Stadium hugged each other. Some cried. Argentina defender Lisandro Martinez fell to the ground and appeared to bury his face in the turf.

“I don’t think during the match he found many spaces in the last third of the field,” Mexico coach Gerardo Martinez, an Argentine who led his native country from 2014-16, said of Messi. “But he only needs a few seconds to be the difference.”

The momentum of the game changed completely and Mexico suddenly became ragged, with substitute striker Julian Alvarez proving much more effective for Argentina than Lautaro Martinez, the player he replaced.

Fernandez’s goal was his first for Argentina and it was an excellent one. He feigned to go to his left before shifting the ball to his right foot and curling a shot high and beyond Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.

Argentina’s substitutes poured onto the field to join the celebrations at the same stadium where there was so much despair after the shocking loss to Saudi Arabia.

“We knew we had to win today, that another World Cup was starting for us,” Messi said, “and we knew how to do it.”

MEXICAN LONGEVITY

Mexico midfielder Andres Guardardo became the sixth male player to feature at five World Cups. The 36-year-old follows two Mexicans — Antonio Carbajal and Rafa Marquez — as well as Lothar Matthaus, Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi. Guardardo didn’t last the first half, coming off in the 42nd minute because of injury.

GROUP PERMUTATIONS

Poland leads Argentina and Saudi Arabia by one point with one match to play. Mexico is last and will next face the Saudis.

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Source: https://apnews.com/article/world-cup-soccer-sports-argentina-middle-east-afa23fdf3ed1400048f81226b7e49291

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Report: NWSL to expand in Boston, Utah and California

The National Women’s Soccer League is close to expanding by three teams, which will be in Boston, Utah and the San Francisco area, according to a Friday report in the Wall Street Journal.

The women’s pro league previously indicated it would add at least two teams by 2024. The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the franchises in northern California and Utah are set to start play next year, with Boston to join at a later date.

The NWSL did not confirm the report in a statement Saturday to The Associated Press, saying: “We remain engaged in our expansion process and are excited about our prospects. When we have news to share, we will do so.”

The NWSL has 12 teams, after Angel City in Los Angeles and the San Diego Wave joined the league last year.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the Boston and Bay Area groups will pay about $50 million in franchise fees. The Utah team will pay a reduced fee because of a previous agreement struck when the Utah Royals folded in the 2020 season.

Before the NWSL draft earlier this month, league commissioner Jessica Berman said it would be “somewhere between days and months, more like weeks, when we’ll be in a position to share information” about an expansion.

“What I can say is that I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities we have in front of us,” she added.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Former MVP Candace Parker to sign with champion Aces

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former two-time MVP Candace Parker announced on social media Saturday that she would sign with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Parker spent the past two seasons playing for her hometown Sky, leading Chicago to the WNBA championship in 2021. She also won the 2016 title playing for the Los Angeles Sparks.

She posted on Instagram that Chicago would always be her home, but “my family’s home is on the west coast.

“To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday, and the Aces can’t comment until then.

Parker, a 6-foot-4 forward/center, adds to an already loaded lineup that includes reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who also won the league’s top award in 2020. Wilson also was last season’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Chelsea Gray was MVP of the WNBA Finals and Kelsey Plum MVP of the All-Star Game. Wilson, Plum and Jackie Young were All-Star starters.

Parker and Gray were teammates on Los Angeles’ 2016 title team.

The Aces traded one of their key pieces, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, to the Sparks on Jan. 21, creating speculation Las Vegas was creating salary cap room to sign a big-name player.

Parker, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and the 2016 Finals MVP, certainly fits that bill. Even at 36 last season, she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists for the Sky.

“Candace has done so much for our franchise in her time here,” Chicago coach and general manager James Wade said in a statement. “I understand her reasons for wanting to be closer with her immediate family. We wish her nothing but the best. She will always be a part of the Sky family. We will celebrate her time here as she deserves.”

Losing her is a big blow to the Sky, who made the semifinals in last season’s playoffs before losing in five games to the Connecticut Sun. Kahleah Copper is the only starter under contract for next season, so the Sky could head into a rebuild.

“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to win a championship in my hometown and parade down the same streets I watched the Bulls parade down as a young girl first falling in love with the game of basketball,” Parker posted.

Parker joins the Aces at a time the Women’s National Basketball Players Association said it wanted that organization investigated regarding allegations that Hamby made after being traded. She posted on Instagram she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” because she is pregnant with her second child.

The Aces still have not commented on Hamby’s allegations.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Estrada, Hofstra end No. 18 Charleston’s 20-game win streak

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — This season, Hofstra has been a one-man show. This time, Aaron Estrada had some help as the Pride ended the nation’s longest winning streak.

Estrada scored 25 points, but just two in the second half, while Darlinestone Dubar added 18 as Hofstra had four players in double figures to knock off No. 18 College of Charleston 85-81 on Saturday — ending the Cougars’ 20-game win streak.

“That’s a really big for our program,” Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton said. “To beat a nationally ranked team on their home court when they’ve got it rolling like they do speaks volumes about our kids.”

Claxton saw a team effort to take down the hottest team in the country.

“It wasn’t just Aaron,” Claxton said. “He had a great first half, but we had other guys step up and make baskets or get rebounds when we really needed them.”

The loss ended Charleston’s spotless run that began after losing to then-top-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 11.

Hofstra, the CAA’s leader in field-goal shooting, used that to move past Charleston in the second half as it made 18 of 32 attempts. The Pride led 76-69 with 6:10 to play before the Cougars cut it to two points on Ryan Larson’s foul shots with 2:02 to play.

But Charleston managed just two free throws after that and missed all four 3-pointers they tried.

This is the second straight season the Pride have beaten a Top 25 team. A year ago, Hofstra defeated then No. 24 Arkansas 89-81. The Pride’s only other victory against a Top 25 team came against Southern Illinois in 1976.

Hofstra (15-8, 8-2 Colonial Athletic Association) beat the Cougars (21-2, 9-1) at their own game — 3-point shooting. The Pride were 11 of 22 from 3-point range and overall shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half.

Estrada, who had 23 points in the opening half, shredded the Cougars defense at will. Estrada was 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

“Estrada is a great player, hit a bunch of tough shots, especially in the first half,” Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “Hofstra is a very, very talented team. It’s not just Estrada. They were better than us tonight.”

Then Estrada took over. The CAA’s leading scorer at 21.1 points a game scored 16 of the next 24 points for the Pride, including four 3-pointers.

Ante Brzovic’s dunk at the buzzer gave the Cougars a 46-44 advantage at halftime.

Tyler Thomas had 17 points and eight rebounds for Hofstra.

Brzovic finished with 18 points to lead the Cougars.

BIG PICTURE

Hofstra: The Pride are on a roll in 2023. winning seven of their past eight games, including three in a row.

College of Charleston: The Cougars chances of receiving an NCAA Tournament at-large bid took a major blow with the loss to the Pride. Despite having the nation’s longest win streak for three months, Charleston will most likely have to win the CAA Tournament in March to advance to the NCAAs.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

The Cougars’ 20-game win streak wasn’t the only streak to end on Saturday. College of Charleston played 14 of its first 23 games at TD Arena to start the season and were a perfect 13-0 at home before facing the Pride. Charleston’s 13-game home win streak included three wins in the Charleston Classic. The Cougars became the first mid-major program to win the ESPN event, beating Virginia Tech 77-75 in the championship game. Charleston will finish the season playing four of their final eight games on the road.

POLL POSITION

Charleston’s first loss in nearly three months might drop the Cougars from the national rankings. They have been part of the last four rankings, entering at No. 23 before reaching No. 18 this past week.

UP NEXT

Hofstra returns home to play Towson on Thursday night.

College of Charleston starts a two-game road trip at Drexel on Thursday night.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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