Neymar misses the chance to steal a march on Mohamed Salah

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Neymar spent much of the game against Switzerland lying on the ground. (AFP)
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Brazil's forward Neymar reacts in front of referee Cesar Ramos during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group E football match between Brazil and Switzerland at the Rostov Arena in Rostov-On-Don on June 17, 2018 (Jewel Samad / AFP)
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Brazil's forward Neymar (C) falls during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group E football match between Brazil and Switzerland at the Rostov Arena in Rostov-On-Don on June 17, 2018. (Joe Klamar / AFP)
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Switzerland's defender Manuel Akanji (C) tackles Brazil's forward Neymar during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group E football match between Brazil and Switzerland at the Rostov Arena in Rostov-On-Don on June 17, 2018. (Joe Klamar / AFP)
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Switzerland's defender Michael Lang tackles Brazil's forward Neymar during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group E football match between Brazil and Switzerland at the Rostov Arena in Rostov-On-Don on June 17, 2018. (Joe Klamar / AFP)
Updated 19 June 2018
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Neymar misses the chance to steal a march on Mohamed Salah

  • The pair are jostling for the spot behind Ronaldo and Messi
  • But Neymar was underwhelming against Switzerland as he bids to find top form following injury

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia: It is a decade since neither Cristiano Ronaldo nor Lionel Messi won the Ballon d’Or, so it is no surprise that naming the world’s best two players is as easy as both make the beautiful game appear. 
Yet naming the third-best is not so simple. While there are solid arguments for players such as Andres Iniesta, Kevin de Bruyne or Manuel Neuer, most people would likely agree that the two most prominent contenders for accolade are Neymar and Mohamed Salah. 
The World Cup provides the pair a chance to cement their position in the footballing hierarchy and possibly even threaten to dismantle the duopoly. A stand-out tournament — especially one in which their team surpasses expectations — and a Golden Ball battle would not be out of the question. After all, you have to go back to 1994 to find a Ballon d’Or trio that does not include a member of that year’s World Cup-winning side.
“Salah doesn’t play for a big national team, but he can have a good World Cup,” Neymar said recently when asked who he thought could shine aside from Ronaldo and Messi.
The two wide-men could hardly appear more contrasting. One is a Muslim with no tattoos and has sported the same hairstyle for almost his entire career; the other has passages from the Bible inked on his body and is being roundly mocked this week for his new “spaghetti-head” haircut. 
It is a similar story on the pitch: While Neymar’s game is all about the aesthetics — filled with flicks and tricks and typical Brazilian swagger — Salah is more subtle and direct, using pace and intelligence to pop up in dangerous positions and hurt the opposition. However, although both are key figures for their team’s fortunes and clinical in front of goal, both are also returning from injury. Salah missed the Pharoahs’ defeat to Uruguay and Neymar looked far from 100 percent in Brazil’s clash with Switzerland on Sunday night.
Ronaldo had on Friday made clear his intentions for the month with a splendid, headline-grabbing hat-trick for Portugal against Spain. Messi had missed a penalty for Argentina and slammed a free-kick into an Icelandic wall from a similar position to where Ronaldo had curled his past David De Gea 24 hours earlier. Against the Swiss it was supposed to be the turn of Neymar, but, metaphorically and literally, his free-kick also hit the wall.
The Brazilian’s initial quest to elevate himself above the Egyptian and make a trinity of that exclusive two-player bracket did not go to plan. Despite Brazil starting the match in Rostov strongly and making penetrative, incisive passes, Neymar was too often a peripheral figure. After 30 minutes and with his side leading through a magnificent Philippe Coutinho striker, Neymar had completed only nine passes. By the end, he had made fewer successful passes than any other outfield teammate who played 90 minutes.
At 26 years old, Neymar is only now reaching his peak, but has already scored 55 goals in 85 appearances for his country, a record bettered only by Ronaldo (62) and Pelé (77). Yet while he may well go on and eclipse the two legends, both were two-time World Cup winners by their 26th birthdays. He will never be their equal without at least a winners’ medal.
In the 1-1 draw against the Swiss, Neymar too often sapped the pace out of his side’s attack, holding the ball and trying to invite a challenge rather than releasing a teammate. In doing so, not only did Brazil fail to create much of note — from their 20 shots at goal, only four hit the target — but Neymar also ended up spending much of the match lying on the ground.
At the 1966 World Cup, Pele was cruelly kicked off the field and resultantly out of the tournament. There were echoes of that as Neymar time and again was shoved or scythed, yet no protection was provided by the referee. When the final whistle sounded, the former Barcelona forward was the most-fouled player in a World Cup game for 20 years. Having only recently returned from a broken metatarsal, the site of his ripped socks suggest this was not play-acting either, even if his limping gait did become more pronounced only after the match.
“I was hit and it was aching, but (it’s) nothing to worry about,” he said. “After your body is cold, it aches a little more, but that’s OK. I have nothing to say (about the number of fouls). All I have to do is to play football, or try to do it. It’s for the referee to see it. I guess that will be normal (to be fouled regularly). We have to pay attention to it, but that’s something normal in football.”
Next up for Neymar and Co. will be Costa Rica on Friday, a match that now represents a must-win for the five-time champions. Before that though, the World Cup may get a glimpse of his contender to the throne — Egypt meet hosts Russia tomorrow. Mohamed Salah is expected to start. 


Riyad Mahrez comes of age at Manchester City in search for glory

Updated 16 November 2018
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Riyad Mahrez comes of age at Manchester City in search for glory

  • Riyad Mahrez signed for City in a $76.6 million move
  • All eyes were on how Pep Guardiola’s only summer signing would add an extra edge to a record-breaking side

MANCHESTER: It took eight games for Riyad Mahrez to show why Manchester City paid a club record £60 million ($76.6 million) for his services.
All eyes were on how Pep Guardiola’s only summer signing would add an extra edge to a side that broke records on the way to claiming the Premier League title last season.
The Algerian winger came off the bench just past the hour mark against Cardiff two months ago and slid home his first City goal from close range before curling in a second with a fine left-foot finish.
The brace provided lift-off for the 27-year-old and his confident displays since have quickly dispelled any doubts that he would struggle to adapt to a system under Guardiola that demands commitment as well as class.
For Mahrez, he has been working to fulfil this footballing dream ever since he was a youngster practicing his skills on the streets of Paris suburb Sarcelles, encouraged by his late father Ahmed.
“I’m proud,” he says of an inspiring journey that began professionally in the French Second Division with Quimper in 2009, then at Le Havre a year later, before joining Leicester City for just £400,000 in 2014.
“It’s not easy to arrive here (at City), to come to a club like this. You need to work very hard to get here and when you do it’s not the final thing.
“You still need to work even more, to perform, to be humble, and to try to go higher. Of course, I want to do even better.
“I didn’t feel any pressure when I came because of the price, I don’t think about this stuff.
“I’m feeling good now at City, playing good at the moment and we are winning games. But it’s not finished yet and we need to keep going. The season is very long and we all have to keep going like this.”
While Mahrez has already won the league title with Leicester during a fairytale 2015-16 season that also saw him crowned the PFA Player of the Year, he remains ambitious and convinced he can still improve.
A yardstick has perhaps been set by Liverpool’s Egyptian frontman Mohamed Salah, who took his game to another level with 44 goals last season, winning the PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards and named third in the 2018 Best FIFA Men’s Player.
“Salah had a very good season. And we have a good team, we can score a lot of goals and I hope to do more, like he has done,” Mahrez told Arab News exclusively.
“But the most important thing is that we keep on winning as a team, and I’m going to try to help the team to do this, to score goals, make assists.”
The performances of Mahrez, who has claimed four more goals since the Cardiff match, and eight-goal Salah on Merseyside could well be integral to how their clubs eventually fare in this campaign.
Both teams are unbeaten in the league after 12 games with City two points clear of Liverpool, a lead confirmed by the impressive 3-1 win over neighbors United in the recent Manchester derby.
But Mahrez knows the mesmerising manner in which they have roared to the top will mean nothing if they are not there next May.
“The derby was special, a good atmosphere, a good win, I’m very happy,” he said after his first experience of the rivalry.
“But it’s not that because we beat United we are going to win the league. You can’t think like that, there’s still a long way to go and we have to keep focus.
“We have a good team, we are playing well. We just need to keep working hard for each other and we know we are going to be there at the end of the season. That’s the target.
“I won the title with Leicester, but I came here to win more trophies.
“I’m not going to say I’m going to win this or that, but of course this is a club that wants to win trophies. Win the Premier League, I don’t know. Win the Champions League, I don’t know.
“But we are going to make everything we can to try to do that. That’s the challenge for us.”