Neymar shines on PSG debut, says he’s ‘more alive than ever’

PSG's Neymar, center, tries to score past Guingamp goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson, left, during the French League One soccer match between Guingamp and PSG at the Roudourou stadium in Guingamp, western France, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017. Neymar makes his long-awaited debut with Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday in the small Brittany town of Guingamp. (AP)
Updated 14 August 2017
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Neymar shines on PSG debut, says he’s ‘more alive than ever’

GUINGAMP, FRANCE: Declaring he was “more alive than ever,” Neymar did not disappoint on his debut for Paris Saint-Germain.
The world’s most expensive player provided a pulsating evening’s entertainment at the Stade du Roudourou on Sunday, with one goal and an assist, as PSG overcame strong resistance from Guingamp to win 3-0 in the French league.
Neymar was named man of the match, and it was deserved.
“I’m very happy with the trophy (man of the match), but the most important (thing) was to win,” Neymar said through a translator. “I knew it would be difficult to leave Barca, but I’m very happy to be here. People believe that leaving Barca is like to die. But I’m more alive than ever. I’m very happy, and the football is the same.”
Neymar, who signed from Barcelona last week, missed the start of the season at the Parc des Princes against Amiens due to paperwork problems. Hired for a world-record 222 million euros ($262 million), he started on the left wing of PSG’s attack in the small Brittany town.
Neymar looked intensely focused from the start, easily switching from one wing to the other, and often taking a playmaker role.
Pre-match festivities in the small Brittany town included some fireworks, but Neymar was jeered by a handful of fans as he came on the pitch to warm up with his teammates, pointing a finger toward the sky. By the end, many local fans gave him a standing ovation.
Neymar’s first touch in the French league was a long ball for Angel Di Maria that landed on the edge of the box, but the Argentine player could not latch onto it.
Neymar’s vision, acceleration and through balls in a weaker league than Spain’s unsettled Guingamp’s back four, and his trademark dribbles were also on display at the Roudourou. Midfielder Lucas Deaux will be remembered as the first French league player to be nutmegged by the former Barcelona star.
Encouragingly for PSG, Neymar has already gelled with Cavani, with both players finding each other instinctively despite the lack of space in the Guingamp box.
The big question that immediately emerged when Neymar signed with PSG was how he could fit into coach Unai Emery’s system. Neymar proved he can play well with the Uruguay forward, especially if Emery continues to use Cavani in a central position.
“I knew he was a top player,” Neymar said about Cavani. “Now I’m playing with him. He is a great player, and when you have such great players in a team, it’s easy.”
Neymar said it was easy to fit into the team.
“You may not believe it, but in the friendlies that Barcelona was playing in the beginning of the season I was already playing in that position, more on the inside and sometimes on the flanks. Our coach likes us to float around in the middle, he left me very comfortable. I am feeling very well.”
Neymar completed 103 passes, one of which set up Cavani in the 62nd minute, as his teammate scored his 90th goal in 135 topflight matches. Cavani then turned provider to set up Neymar with a cut-back pass that the Brazil captain converted from close range with a poke in the 82nd minute.
“I was more impressed by Cavani, who scored again,” said Guingamp veteran striker Jimmy Briand. “Neymar, there is no need to introduce him anymore. We knew he was going to be a big threat.”
On a sleepy summer Sunday, the atmosphere slowly built in the small town of Guingamp, though most of the streets were still empty mid-afternoon.
Fans later gathered for pre-match drinks at a downtown bar, “Le panier a salade (The salad shaker),” where walls are adorned with autographed jerseys from Guingamp players.
Some PSG fans mingled with home supporters in a friendly atmosphere.
“It’s magic to see Neymar at the Roudourou stadium,” said Florian Nicolas, a 30-year-old PSG fan who settled in Brittany five years ago. “This match will be watched worldwide.”
A town of 7,000 inhabitants known for its local galette-Saucisse treat — a sausage rolled in a crepe — Guingamp is also football-crazy and has witnessed the emergence of world-class players including the likes of Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda in the early 2000s. A club-record 18,378 fans watched Sunday’s game.


FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED: More Lionel Messi magic, Juve miss Cristiano Ronaldo and Ajax title wait set to continue

Updated 15 min 47 sec ago
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FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED: More Lionel Messi magic, Juve miss Cristiano Ronaldo and Ajax title wait set to continue

LONDON: Zinedine Zidane marked his return to the Real Madrid dugout with a victory although Lionel Messi again stole the show in Spain with a magnificent hat-trick as Barcelona continued their march toward the La Liga title. Here we look at what we learned from the weekend’s key action across the continent:

ZIZOU BACK AND MAGIC MESSI

Zinedine Zidane may have made a winning start to his second spell as coach of Real Madrid but Barcelona look to have the La Liga title already sewn up. Barca blew away Real Betis 4-1 on Sunday as Lionel Messi scored his fourth hat-trick of the season and 51st of his career, prompting even the Betis fans to stand and applaud. The Catalans now have a 10-point lead over Atletico Madrid, who were beaten 2-0 by Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, four days after their Champions League heartache at the hands of Juventus.Real’s hopes of catching Barcelona were already all but over but Zidane has at least lifted the gloom. He recalled a handful of old favorites against Celta Vigo on Saturday, including Isco, who scored the opener, before Gareth Bale — who was not always appreciated by Zidane in the coach’s first spell — added another in a 2-0 victory.

Zidane enjoyed a winning start to his second reign as Real Madrid boss. (AFP)

SPALLETTI SAFE?

Under-fire Inter Milan coach Luciano Spalletti hit back at his critics with a dramatic 3-2 Milan derby win which lifted his side to third in Serie A. For Spalletti it was a third derby win in four since taking over in mid-2017, and just days after crashing out of the Europa League, as Inter extended their unbeaten run in the derby to six games, their longest run since 1999. “I read that this was to be my last derby, the ‘Last Supper’,” said the former Roma and Zenit Saint Petersburg coach. “And instead I know that there’s another supper for me,” he added, after being praised by Chinese-owned Inter’s president Steven Zhang. “We’re now already looking to the future, to the next match and next month,” said Zhang. “This derby sends an important message.” Juventus, without Cristiano Ronaldo, fell to their first Serie A defeat of the season in a 2-0 reverse to Genoa but still have a 15-point lead.

Inter extended their unbeaten run in the Milan derby to six games, their longest run since 1999​. (AFP) 

BAYERN’S YOUNG GUN

Canadian teenager Alphonso Davies became the youngest Bayern Munich goalscorer since Roque Santa Cruz in 1999, a year before the former was even born, in Sunday’s 6-0 demolition of Mainz. Bayern are level on points with Borussia Dortmund as they bid for an eighth successive Bundesliga title, but the meek nature of their Champions League exit against Liverpool posed questions about the future of a number of aging stars. With a clear-out on the horizon in Bavaria, the 18-year-old Davies, acquired last July in a $13 million move from MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps, could soon be given the opportunity to stake his claim as a core component in a new Bayern generation.

Alphonso Davies is making a name for himself at the Allianz Arena. (AFP)

LIGHT AT END OF ROAD FOR MONACO

With their Ligue 1 status under threat, Monaco’s decision to cut short a failing experiment with Thierry Henry in January and replace him with predecessor Leonardo Jardim has paid off handsomely. Friday’s 1-0 win at second-place Lille, enjoying their best points return at this stage of the campaign since 1948, extended Monaco’s unbeaten run since his return to seven games in Ligue 1. They remain just two places above the relegation play-off spot but are eight points clear of Guingamp and recent form suggests they will surely avoid the drop.

Under Jardim Monaco are making a very impressive tilt at avoiding relegation. (AFP) 

TITLE WAIT FOR AJAX LOOKS SET TO CONTINUE

Champions League quarter-finalists Ajax slumped to a 1-0 defeat away to AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch Eredivisie to drop five points behind leaders PSV Eindhoven. PSV won 1-0 at VVV Venlo over the weekend courtesy of a late strike by Mexico international Hirving Lozano. Ajax, who won the last of their record 33 Dutch championships in 2014, must now win their clash with PSV in Amsterdam on March 31 if they are to remain in the title race.

Are Ajax and Daley Blind to go anohter year without winning the Dutch title? (AFP)