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

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. 

Five memorable India vs, Pakistan clashes

Updated 18 September 2018

Five memorable India vs, Pakistan clashes

  • Arch-rivals to meet in Dubai on Wednesday.
  • Cricket's biggest rivalry is one of the biggest in sport.

LONDON: Sparks generally fly when India take on Pakistan at cricket, and Wednesday’s Asia Cup clash in Dubai will be an emotionally charged fixture as always.

Here are five of the most memorable clashes between the two cricketing powerhouses.


On the same day the teams were playing a one-day match at Sialkot in Pakistan on Oct. 31, 1984, the Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her bodyguards in New Delhi.
Dilip Vengsarkar and Ravi Shastri were piling on runs for India when the news came. Pakistan’s president Zia ul Haq ordered the match stopped, and India’s captain Sunil Gavaskar wanted the same.
“Obviously, we weren’t in any frame of mind to carry on and, sure enough, the ODI had to be abandoned,” Vengsarkar told India’s Telegraph later.
“Thirty years have gone by, but it’s a day one can’t forget,” he said.


Imran Khan’s best bowling figures of six for 14 were in a one-day international against India March 22, 1985, but for the swashbuckling Pakistan fast bowler it was all in vain.
Khan ripped apart the Indian batting line-up in Sharjah in the UAE to send the opposition packing for 125. But Pakistan’s own batting imploded, skittled for just 87.
Khan — now Pakistani prime minister — was still man of the match, however.


The match that will always evoke the bitterest memories for India, and the sweetest ones for Pakistan, was on April 18, 1986, again an ODI in Sharjah.
With Pakistan needing four off the last ball to win, India’s Chetan Sharma ran in and bowled a full toss — which Javed Miandad swatted for six.
Miandad, who was presented with a golden sword, became a national hero, while Sharma faced barbs and insults on his return home.


A century from Sachin Tendulkar, India’s most celebrated batsman, was usually a recipe for success in the 1990s and 2000s but not in the 1999 Test match against Pakistan in Chennai.
Chasing 271 for victory, Tendulkar brought India close with a sparkling 136, but Pakistani off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq got him out and India eventually lost by 12 runs.
A sporting Indian home crowd gave the Wasim Akram-led side a standing ovation, but Tendulkar was heartbroken.
Weeping in the dressing room, according to then-coach Anshuman Gaekwad, the “little master” refused to come out of the dressing room to receive his man-of-the-match award.


An India-Pakistan final in the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup and a sell-out crowd in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2007 was a perfect setting for cricket’s newest format.
Pakistan’s Misbah ul-Haq was on the cusp of taking his team to a memorable win with his gritty batting in a chase of 158.
But then came a moment of madness as Misbah tried to play an audacious paddle shot to seal victory against paceman Joginder Sharma in the final over.
The ball went high into the waiting hands of Shanthakumaran Sreesanth. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s India celebrated like never before as Misbah missed a chance of a lifetime.