Neymar misses the chance to steal a march on Mohamed Salah

1 / 5
Neymar spent much of the game against Switzerland lying on the ground. (AFP)
2 / 5
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)
3 / 5
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)
4 / 5
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)
5 / 5
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
0

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. 


Pakistan’s Azhar Ali signs for Somerset

Pakistan's Azhar Ali celebrates reaching his century during a match between England and Pakistant on August 4, 2016. (Reuters file)
Updated 17 July 2018
0

Pakistan’s Azhar Ali signs for Somerset

  • Azhar is set to make his Somerset debut against Worcestershire later this month

LONDON: Pakistan batsman Azhar Ali has joined Somerset for the remainder of their first-class English County Championship fixtures this season, the southwest club said Monday.

The 33-year-old replaces Australia opener Matt Renshaw, who made three hundreds at 51.30 in the opening rounds of the Championship before breaking a finger against Surrey at Guildford last month.

Azhar is set to make his Somerset debut against Worcestershire later this month.

"The standard of first-class cricket in England is very high and I hope that I can make a contribution to Somerset winning matches," Azhar told his new county's website.

"I have heard good things about Somerset and I was impressed by what I saw at Taunton in 2016 (when Pakistan opened their tour of England that year against the county).

"I am looking forward to joining my new team mates and meeting the Somerset supporters soon."

Azhar struggled during Pakistan's three Tests against Ireland and England earlier this season, making 73 runs in six innings although his lone fifty did come during Pakistan's impressive victory over England at Lord's.

"Finding the right fit at short notice can be challenging, however we are delighted to have secured a player of Azhar Ali's character, pedigree and class for the remaining seven Specsavers County Championship matches," said Somerset's director of cricket, Andy Hurry.

"His experience at the top of the order will prove to be hugely valuable at the business end of the season.

"I have spoken to him several times over the last few weeks and he is very keen to share his knowledge of the game with our aspirational players, so the influence he can have within the changing room will also be vital for us as a club."