Lionel Messi, Ronaldo lead AP player rankings

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LONDON (AP) - Lionel Messi’s four-goal burst ensured that he and Barcelona returned to the top of the Associated Press Global Soccer rankings this week.

The romance of England’s FA Cup produced some unlikely names in the Top 10 teams and a previously unknown striker at No. 9.

Thirteeen out of 18 panelists placed Messi at No. 1 on their list of Top 10 players, with Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo in second place after his hat trick. With 10 points for the top position, Messi earned 176 points, followed by Ronaldo with 159.

Sampdoria striker Mauro Icardi, a 19-year-old Argentine who is becoming a fixture in the AP Top 10 as one of the most promising players in European club soccer, was third with 90 points.

Icardi, a product of Barcelona’s youth academy, scored four times in Sampdoria’s 6-0 rout of Pescara in Serie A.

“The youngster from Rosario scored four times against Pescara and showed why Cesare Prandelli hopes to see him turn his back on his native country and represent the Italian national team,” Leonardo Bertozzi of ESPN Brazil said.

Eurosport’s Cedric Rouquette said the year has started just like the previous four with Messi slightly ahead of Ronaldo “at the summit of world football.”

“Thrill of the week, however, was Icardi’s four goals,” Rouquette said. “Even if his goals were not technically difficult or inventive, a player needs superior talent to always be in the right place at the right time.”

James Porteous of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong also had Messi at the top and Ronaldo just behind.

“Just hours after Ronaldo scored his 19th hat trick for Real Madrid, Messi scored four against Osasuna as the world’s two best players continued their remarkable scoring form,” Porteous said.

Barcelona moved back into first place in the team rankings this week with 157 points, well clear of Real Madrid’s 115. Bayern Munich was again in third place despite a successful Bundesliga season, with 11 points clear at the top.

Bayern earned 104 points, almost twice as many as fourth-place Borussia Dortmund. Manchester United was fifth with 57 points.

Napoli was in sixth place, and the next three slots are filled by teams with the unlikely names of Bradford, Luton and Oldham. All three lowly English clubs - Luton is not even in the Football League - overcame Premier League opposition in domestic cup competitions, beating Aston Villa, Norwich and Liverpool, respectively.

“My top 10 teams are dominated by lower league sides after a week of cup upsets in Britain,” Porteous said. “Bradford kicked it off by reaching the League Cup final, while Luton, Oldham and Leeds were among those teams taking down Premier League opposition in the FA Cup.”

Matt Smith, a 6-foot-7-inch forward, scored twice in Oldham’s 3-2 victory over Liverpool and earned ninth place in the player poll, ahead of AC Milan striker Stephan El Shaarawy, whose consistent performances this season will likely give earn him a permanent place in the Italian national team.

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