Messi edges Falcao at top of AP soccer rankings

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LONDON (AP) - Lionel Messi narrowly stayed on top of AP’s Global Soccer Rankings this week despite breaking the record for goals in a calendar year. The Barcelona great finished one point ahead of Spanish league rival Radamel Falcao, who scored five goals for Atletico Madrid.

Barcelona lost its top spot in the team rankings to Manchester United, which beat Manchester City 3-2 to stay in first place in the Premier League.

Messi received 170 points from 18 voters, with Falcao at 169. Wayne Rooney was third with 120 after scoring twice for United.

Messi broke Mueller’s 40-year-old record for most goals in a year, scoring for the 86th time in 2012 on Sunday. The Argentine forward scored twice in a 2-1 win at Real Betis.

Falcao became the first player to score five goals in a Spanish league game since Fernando Morientes of Real Madrid in the 2001-02 season. He led Atletico to a 6-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna.

“Messi or Falcao? Falcao or Messi?” said Eurosport’s Cedric Rouquette. “Two superheavyweights went head to head for first place this week. Dethroning Messi in the week he beat Gerd Mueller’s goal-scoring record with two clinical goals would take something special. And Falcao’s five goals were an astonishing performance.”

Aurelio Capaldi of Italy’s Rai Sport put Rooney at the top of his list rather than Messi or Falcao.

“Messi’s record is impressive and Radamel Falcao scoring five goals in a game for the first time in his professional career is outstanding, but Wayne Rooney deserves the top spot this week as he was the man of the match at the Etihad Stadium,” Capaldi said.

AP’s panel of global soccer journalists agreed that Chelsea’s long-struggling striker Fernando Torres has returned to form, voting him into fifth place with 65 points, two behind Roma captain Francesco Totti. Totti scored twice and set up two more goals in a 4-2 win that ended Fiorentina’s nine-match unbeaten run.

Torres scored four times for Chelsea in a week.

“Torres is coming back with coach Rafa Benitez who took him to the top in Liverpool years ago,” said Orfeo Suarez of Spain’s El Mundo. “Two important victories for Chelsea in the week before the Club World Cup.”

Tom Timmermann of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said: “I may face a conundrum next week if Chelsea wins the Club World Cup. I’ve sworn them off for the time being, but can I leave the `world champs’ out of the top 10?”

In the team vote, Manchester United jumped from fourth to first place with 145 points, ahead of Barcelona (131) and Bayern Munich (110), which leapt from 10th to third place. Bayern finished first in its Champions League group with a 4-1 victory over Bate Borisov and then stayed at the top of the Bundesliga with a 2-0 away victory to Augsburg.

Juventus dropped one place to fourth, despite winning to stay in the Serie A lead. The top teams in Europe’s top four leagues fill the top four places in the AP rankings.

Falcao’s Atletico Madrid is in fifth place while Real Madrid fell from second to sixth, giving Spain three clubs in the top six.

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