PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain stars Kylian Mbappé and Neymar could take out their World Cup frustrations on struggling Strasbourg when the French league resumes on Wednesday.
Coach Christophe Galtier said Tuesday that both players are ready for league leader PSG’s match at Parc des Princes, even though Mbappé has had little time off since France lost a wild World Cup final to Argentina in Qatar on Dec. 18.
Still, Mbappé returned to training with PSG just three days later.
“Kylian had some great games, he was the tournament’s top scorer (with eight goals),” Galtier said. “His wish was to join up with us pretty quickly. That doesn’t mean he won’t get some time off to recover further down the line.”
Galtier said Achraf Hakimi — who played for surprise semifinalist Morocco — and Mbappé are ready for both Strasbourg and a crucial match at second-place Lens on New Year’s Day. The coach doesn’t consider it a physical risk to select them in consecutive matches so soon after the tournament.
“I don’t think so. Hakimi and Mbappé wanted to come back and play in these two games,” Galtier said. “As long as they’re physically and mentally in good shape, there’s no reason for us to miss out on playing them.”
Neymar resumed training on Dec. 22 and is highly motivated.
“From a psychological point of view, he really wants to play. That’s a good sign,” said Galtier, who gave assurances that Neymar is not feeling any lingering effects from the right ankle injury he sustained against Serbia early into the World Cup.
Neymar broke down and couldn’t stop crying after Brazil lost to Croatia in the quarterfinals. He scored a superb solo goal to tie Pele’s national team scoring record of 77 goals but Croatia equalized deep into extra time and then advanced on penalties. Brazil struggled in the shootout to the extent that Neymar didn’t even get the chance to take his team’s fifth kick.
Messi scored twice in the final and calmly converted his side’s first penalty in a tension-filled shootout against France, capping a remarkable tournament that strengthened his position as arguably the game’s greatest player and saw him join his idol Diego Maradona as a World Cup winner.
The 35-year-old Messi was given extra time off to celebrate his success back home in Argentina and is expected to resume training by early next week, Galtier said.
Even without the record seven-time Ballon d’Or winner to contend with, Strasbourg still has to face the league’s two top scorers. Mbappé has 12 goals and Neymar is on 11 and 19th-place Strasbourg’s leaky defense could be in for a tough night.
Lens is five points behind PSG in second place and travels to midtable Nice on Thursday.
Third-place Rennes is five points adrift of Lens and visits Reims, while fourth-place Marseille hosts Toulouse, with those games also on Thursday.
Nice coach Lucien Favre doesn’t know when midfielder Aaron Ramsey is joining up with the squad.
Favre was asked about Ramsey in his pre-match news conference and said the Wales midfielder was still absent.
“No, he’s still not back yet. I think the World Cup was very hard to take for him, so we’ll see,” Favre said, adding that he hasn’t tried to contact the player. “No. I could do, but there you go.”
Ramsey played in all three of the national team’s World Cup games in Qatar where Wales finished last in its group.
“He’s very disappointed about the World Cup,” Favre said. “He’s taking his time to really recover.”
Ramsey, who previously played for Arsenal and Juventus, has scored one goal in 16 games since joining Nice this season.
Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press