PSG got what they deserved at Rennes, admits Pochettino as Ligue 1 title hopes fade

By Sports Desk May 09, 2021

Mauricio Pochettino has not given up on winning Ligue 1, but conceded Paris Saint-Germain got no less than they deserved against Rennes as their title hopes took a hit following a 1-1 draw.

Neymar celebrated his new four-year deal with PSG by scoring a contentious penalty to put Pochettino's team ahead on Sunday, only for Serhou Guirassy's fine header to seal a point for Rennes.

PSG were in fact lucky not to lose, with Presnel Kimpembe seeing red late on and Keylor Navas pulling out some impressive saves to keep it at 1-1.

The draw leaves PSG three points behind Lille with two games remaining – no team has ever been crowned Ligue 1 champions with such a gap at this stage – and the title may well be wrapped up next week should the capital club drop points against Reims and the leaders beat Saint-Etienne.

Indeed, it is not just the title PSG have to worry about, with their place in the Champions League no certainty.

PSG edged possession (57.8 per cent) against Rennes, but their tally of 12 attempts was seven fewer than the hosts managed, while only four of them were on target – Bruno Genesio's European hopefuls, who were without key midfielders Steven Nzonzi and Eduardo Camavinga, managing 10 in total.

"A lot can still happen, we are disappointed, but we have to give credit to Rennes, who had a very good game," PSG head coach Pochettino in his post-match news conference.

"We have to win the next matches to hope for something. We were not better than Rennes over 90 minutes, we did not deserve to take three points.

"It's a season with a lot of ups and downs, we arrived four months ago to help the club. A club like PSG must always think in the future. Every club thinks of improving, decisions will be made at the end of the season, we always think of improving."

While Neymar toiled, he was not helped by the absence of Kylian Mbappe, who was suspended – albeit he has been struggling with an injury which kept him from featuring against Manchester City in the Champions League midweek as PSG lost in the semi-finals.

Asked if Mbappe's absence was a major factor in the poor performance, Pochettino replied: "We must not think that we did not win because of an absence."

PSG have now failed to keep a clean sheet in their last eight Ligue 1 fixtures, conceding 11 goals in total, making it their longest such run since a streak of 11 top-flight matches back in 2012.

The frustration boiled over heading towards the dying embers, with France centre-back Kimpembe lunging in on Jeremy Doku and receiving a straight red.

"We see frustration with the result, he arrives late. We are professionals, we know our responsibilities, our obligations," Pochettino said.

PSG captain Marquinhos, however, did not hold back.

"We will play what we have left to play. We have a Coupe de France to go for and the championship to continue to put pressure on Lille," he told Canal+.

"We have to go 100 per cent. It is unacceptable to leave points like that when we are Paris Saint-Germain. It can happen once, twice, but it's starting to happen a lot. We have to be sincere, it's not our best season, we weren't very strong. We have to do a lot better at the end of the season."

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    An infamous video circulated following England's embarrassing last-16 defeat to Iceland six and a half years ago showing Wales' players lapping up their fierce rivals' demise.

    Wales surpassed expectations by making it to the semi-finals of that competition, despite losing to England in the group stage, but they have had less success at Qatar 2022.

    The Dragons require a victory against England at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium if they are to avoid a group-stage exit and must hope the United States and Iran play out a draw elsewhere.

    A four-goal win for Wales against their neighbours on Tuesday would also be enough, but they have not so much as avoided defeated against England in their past six meetings.

    Shaw, who played a full part in England's 6-2 win over Iran and goalless draw with the USA, believes the scenes from 2016 will add more spice to an already feisty fixture.

    "I think you could say that," Shaw said. "But our motivation in itself has to be at its highest level. We are at the World Cup. We have great aims for what we want to achieve.

    "We have to have the maximum motivation at every game. I don't think there's any more motivation than what we have already. 

    "It wasn't nice. I don't want to dwell too much on that. I want to focus on what we do on the pitch. We can say things in interviews and I'd rather do our talking on the pitch."

    Asked if England's players would consider recording similar scenes of celebrating should they knock out Wales, Shaw said: "I think we are a respectful group.

    "We do things in the right way. That's the example Gareth [Southgate] wants to set. We are fully behind that. We are fully respectful.

    "I think their motivation is going to be extremely high. They are going to give everything to win. It's not an easy game. But we need to focus on what we do."

    England will advance to the knockout stage if they avoid a heavy loss to Wales, though Southgate's side will be targeting a victory to make certain of top spot in Group B.

    Speaking ahead of England's first ever World Cup match against a fellow British side, Southgate said: "We have got to play well. 

    "We are going to play an opponent that is wounded and, like everybody else, desperate to beat the English. We've got to play an intelligent game, play well and match their spirit.

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    England have lost their third and final group-stage game in just two of their 14 participations at the World Cup (W7 D5), doing so against Spain in 1950 and Belgium in 2018.

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    On the pitch, where the shadows of Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain were sprinting through the middle, looking for a pass or clearing a path for Lionel Messi.

    The ghosts of Argentina's past haunted them for large parts of Saturday's game against Mexico, as the present almost became a living nightmare.

    Lionel Scaloni's team were in dire danger of heading out of this World Cup after two games, the champions of South America last year vulnerable to a humbling on the global stage, until a flash of Messi magic changed everything.

    A swish of that left boot from 25 yards, and the ball zipped into the bottom-right corner. It had to be him.

    On the night Messi matched Maradona's Argentina record of 21 World Cup appearances, he also moved level with El Diego on eight goals in his career at the finals, two behind national team record holder Gabriel Batistuta. For Messi, those World Cup goals have all come in the group stage, something he came to Qatar to change and still might.

    Losing to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday was bad enough for Argentina, but at least there would be a reaction against the Mexicans. Perhaps it might be the spur they needed, and perhaps it could still be Messi's World Cup.

    Those were theories that were widely voiced, yet for an hour they looked to be utter bunkum.

    Even at 90 minutes, with a 2-0 scoreline barely reflecting the flow of the game, you were left fearing Argentina might find a way to trip up against Poland next time out. If they finish second in this group, it will almost certainly be France waiting for them in the second round, and on the evidence so far, Argentina would be mauled by Les Bleus.

    Messi and Co arrived at this tournament on a 36-game unbeaten run, but such has been their languid start you would have been forgiven for guessing they played all 36 of those games in the last month.

    Here they were off the pace from the start, lacking any obvious strategy, down on energy, praying for Messi to conjure something. It had an air of Barcelona in the final days of Ronald Koeman's reign about it.

    Scaloni has backed Lautaro Martinez to be his lone striker, and there might have to be a rethink on that score. Martinez has a shot conversion rate of 12.9 per cent this season for Inter, which is not ideal for a striker, and has been finding the net at club level every 206.25 minutes.

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    This team used to have an embarrassment of attacking riches, and they desperately miss prime era Higuain and Aguero.

    Martinez has a strong scoring record for his country, but he was ineffective here, his second game at his first World Cup.

    When a clear chance came his way in the 40th minute, after a fine cross from the right by Di Maria, he planted a header way off target. It was his one goal attempt. Argentina only had five shots all night, which was still one more than Mexico. Their combined total of shots is the fewest ever recorded in a World Cup, based on studies of matches going back as far as 1966.

    There was a moment late in the first half that looked to be typifying Argentina's night: Mexico's Alexis Vega had a free-kick well saved by Emiliano Martinez shortly before half-time and Argentina went on the break, with Messi looking to dance down the right and make something happen.

    Except, those feet don't dance as quickly as they once did, and the ball was soon swept into touch. At Paris Saint-Germain, with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for company, the gradual decline of Messi is not quite so obvious. He can be a joy to behold in that company still, but when all the attention of defenders is on him, as it inevitably was this time, he was being too easily crowded out and barged off the ball.

    In the second half, Erick Gutierrez hacked down Messi when he got close to the edge of the box and began to sprint, and Argentina had the chance they wanted. Messi punted it over the crossbar, and you just sensed it would not be his night.

    And then Messi decided that, actually, yes it would be.

    At the age of 35, he cannot win a World Cup by himself, but he can still come up with magical moments, and it was a goal for the career showreels, a stroke of familiar genius at the Lusail Iconic Stadium, which will stage this tournament's final.

    For the second time in his career, Messi has scored in six consecutive international games for his country. He remains a joy of a player, and his country's biggest hope.

    Substitute Enzo Fernandez added a late second goal that flattered Argentina, and it made the Benfica player, at 21 years and 313 days, the youngest Argentina scorer at a World Cup since the 18-year-old Messi announced himself at the 2006 finals. The past might still be a haunting influence, but here was a glimpse into the future.

    A smiling Messi celebrated with relieved supporters at the end. For just a fleeting moment in this game, he had been afforded a yard of space and made it count.

    Friday marked two years since the death of Maradona. He is Argentina's past, yet you still almost expect television cameras to pan to him in the stands.

    Messi has spent his life trying to live up to the legend of Maradona, and that shared super-natural brilliance has just about kept Argentina's hopes alive in Qatar.

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    Poland's 2-0 victory over Saudi Arabia earlier on Saturday left Argentina needing to avoid defeat against Mexico if they were not to exit the competition after just two games.

    Argentina put their shock 2-1 loss against Saudi Arabia behind them thanks to Messi's long-range opener after 64 minutes and Enzo Fernandez's equally-as-impressive late strike.

    Lionel Scaloni's men join Saudi Arabia on three points and are one point behind Group C leaders Poland, who they face in their final match, while Mexico are bottom on one point.

    Argentina made five changes on the back of their opening loss, three of those in defence, and they failed to register a meaningful attempt in the first half.

    Mexico went closest to opening the scoring before the interval through an Alexis Vega free-kick that called Emiliano Martinez into action.

    The quality only marginally improved in the second half, but out of nowhere Messi controlled Angel Di Maria's pass and fired a low shot past Guillermo Ochoa from 25 yards.

    That strike took Messi level with fellow great Diego Maradona on eight World Cup goals for Argentina, who added a second through substitute Fernandez.

    With three minutes left, the Benfica midfielder received a pass from Messi following a short corner, worked his way into the box and then curled away from Ochoa into the top corner.

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