Bad World Cup memories be gone. Lionel Messi is back to his match-winning self.
Not even a black cat - regarded as unlucky in Spain and other cultures - zigzagging across his path on Sunday could stop Messi from sending the message that the four-time world player of the year is ready to do battle once again with 2013 Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo for the title of football's best player.
The trick now for new coach Luis Enrique will be ensuring that Messi stays as fit and hungry as he looked in scoring two sensational goals in Barcelona's Spanish league opener against Elche. Luis Enrique may need to temper Messi's desire to play every minute of every game, so his team doesn't lose him to injury again at the tail end of the season when trophies are on the line.
After the first season in six years without trophies, and a loss to Germany in the World Cup final for Argentina, everyone at the second highest-earning club in Europe after Real Madrid is eager to start afresh. No wonder the Camp Nou crowd looked nervous when a black cat streaked out to join the players.
But Messi's role in Barcelona's 3-0 victory quickly put superstitious thoughts to rest. The goals were vintage Messi, a mix of balance, quick judgment and reflexes, and changes of pace to open angles through Elche's defense before slotting unstoppable shots just inside the uprights with the silky touch of his left boot.
Even more encouraging was his hustle, last seen on a regular basis when former coach Pep Guardiola helped Messi exploit his incredible potential.
In the 28th minute, Messi sprinted back to pressure an Elche player with the ball and cut him down with a nasty tackle. The home crowd wouldn't have minded if he had gotten booked because Messi's effort, as always, was contagious. The team didn't skip a beat playing with 10 men in the second half after Javier Mascherano was sent off.
If World Cup disappointment is still gnawing at Messi, it doesn't show. He looked buoyant, determined, even happy - nothing like the grim-faced losing finalist who appeared to have been hollowed out by the 1-0 extra time loss to Germany at the Maracana Stadium in July, a bitterness which his award as the competition's best player did nothing to sweeten.
In Brazil, after wowing in the group stage, Messi