Neymar, Messi, Suarez impress in World Cup qualifying

Brazil’s Neymar, left, and Peru’s Andre Carrillo during a qualifying match for the FIFA World Cup 2022 at the National Stadium in Lima on Tuesday. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 14 October 2020

Neymar, Messi, Suarez impress in World Cup qualifying

  • As the ‘MSN’ trio, they helped Barcelona win 7 titles before going separate ways

SAO PAOLO: Neymar and Luis Suarez rewrote some record books and Argentina are breathing easier thanks to Lionel Messi.
In South American qualifying for the World Cup on Tuesday night, Neymar became Brazil’s second leading goal scorer after a hat trick in a 4-2 win at Peru. Neymar passed Ronaldo and now trails only Pele.

Messi paced Argentina to a 2-1 win at Bolivia, their first in the altitude of La Paz since 2005. Suarez, despite Uruguay’s 4-2 loss at Ecuador, became the leading goal scorer in the history of South American qualifying.

As the “MSN” trio, they helped Barcelona win the Champions League, two Spanish leagues, one Club World Cup and three Copa del Rey. Neymar left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 and Suarez transferred to Atletico Madrid only weeks ago. Messi remains at the Catalan club but has expressed his desire to leave.

The 33-year-old Messi, who could be heading to his last World Cup, had never won in La Paz. In 2009, he was on the field as his team was routed 6-1 by the Bolivians. Three years ago, Argentina lost 2-0 without him. Tuesday's match looked doomed to follow suit after Bolivia opened the scoring.

But Messi's calm allowed Argentina to play without the angst of previous disappointments. The final reward came after Joaquin Correa scored in the 79th minute after a play started by Messi. Coach Lionel Scaloni hopes the win is a sign that they are capable of improving on recent World Cup performances.

“A great win in the altitude, where it always costs more,” Messi said on Instagram, referring to playing at 3,600 meters (11,800 feet) above sea level.

Hours later, Neymar showed that Brazil should be a team to watch in Qatar in 2022. He scored twice from the spot and once in added time — to put his team as co-leaders of the South American qualifiers.

Neymar's historic moment came when he converted his second penalty. It was his 63rd goal for Brazil, passing Ronaldo. Pele has 77 goals.

The 28-year-old Brazilian used his social media channels to celebrate, posting a picture of Ronaldo and a message that read: “All my respect for you, Phenomenon."

Brazil coach Tite hailed Neymar's achievement but avoided comparisons.

“It is unfair to compare the phases of each one. But what I can say is that Neymar has this unpredictability, he is both a bow and an arrow. He assists and finishes,” the coach said. “He is getting even better and even more mature.”

Suarez scored three times from the spot in his last two matches for Uruguay — to tie and then surpass Messi as the leading goal scorer in the history of South American qualifying. His 24 goals are two more than Messi.

Suarez said after the 2-1 win against Chile on Friday that his move to Atletico Madrid has given him new energy to keep scoring for his national team.

“I feel their care for me there," he said. "It is a different moment and I think that also helps me when I come here.”

The 33-year-old striker will have a chance to add to his tally next month as Uruguay face  Colombia away and Brazil in Montevideo. Neymar will also have a chance to reduce the gap between himself and Pele.


How Roberto Rivelino raised the bar for Saudi football

Updated 20 October 2020

How Roberto Rivelino raised the bar for Saudi football

  • Roberto Rivelino was the highest calibre of footballed to be seen coming into the Kingdom
  • Rivelino raised standards on and off the Saudi pitch, opening the door for others to follow

LONDON: He arrived in Riyadh by Concorde from Rio to be greeted by thousands of Al-Hilal fans at the airport before being whisked to his hotel by Rolls-Royce. It was quite an entrance, but then in August 1978, Roberto Rivelino was quite a player, one of the best and most famous in the world. By the time the Brazilian left Saudi Arabia three seasons later, football in the country had changed and would never be the same again.

Fans of Al-Hilal and plenty of other clubs are accustomed to these days of watching exciting foreign talent in action in the league, but few have been as famous or as influential or - to put it in simple football terms -- as good as this Brazilian legend who made almost 100 appearances for the five-time world champions. He was the first big star in a season that was the first to feature foreign players.

Just weeks before, Saudi football leaders had watched Iran become the first team from Western Asia to compete at the World Cup, but there was already a determination to bring some serious talent to a professional league that had only just started in 1976. So in came the captain of Brazil, according to the influential World Soccer magazine, the 38th best player of the 20th century. 

Here was a star who stood out alongside Pele and Jairzinho in the 1970 World Cup winning team, hailed by many as the best ever. Fans in Saudi Arabia soon started to see just how good he was.

“It was almost amateur football at the time as football was really just starting there,” Rivelino said in an interview with Brazilian television in 2019, before Al-Hilal took on Rio club Flamengo at the FIFA Club World Cup.

“We trained at the same stadium in which we played the games. There were three teams in Riyadh and so we trained from 6 to 7 p.m., the next team from 7 to 8 and then the third from 8 to 9.”

The star had been part of the Brazil national team that played a friendly in Saudi Arabia ahead of the 1978 World Cup when conversations had started about a possible move.

“I talked to my family and then decided to go. It was my first time to play outside Brazil and though the culture and country was very different, it was a special time for me.”

Roberto Rivelino linked up with Tunisian striker Nejib Limam, and they were imperious as Al-Hilal marched to the league title. (Twitter)

Progress was already being made in a country that had at the time a population of just nine million. Rivelino enjoyed driving a Mercedes car in Saudi Arabia, owning one had been a lifelong dream, and also enjoyed the pristine condition of the artificial pitches in the country. He did, however, find the weather difficult to adapt to at first, playing with a wet cloth in his mouth to try and retain as much moisture as possible.

The Brazilian linked up with Tunisian striker Nejib Limam, and they were imperious as Al-Hilal marched to the league title. It was clinched by the Brazilian in fine fashion in the penultimate game against challengers and rivals Al-Nassr. Rivelino pounced on a loose ball well outside the area and lashed home an unstoppable half-volley to score the only goal of the match. The first and only defeat of that season came in the final game with the trophy safely in the cabinet. It was joined by The King’s Cup the following year. 

“He made it look so easy but he worked hard to make it look easy,” said Limam. “At first defenders were in awe of him and that gave me opportunities but he was consistently good and gave local players a taste of what you need to be a world-class player, it is not just about talent but mentality.”

Despite often playing deep in midfield, Rivelino scored 23 goals in fewer than 60 appearances for Al-Hilal. His set-piece skill has yet to be surpassed and he even thrilled fans by scoring directly from a corner against Al-Ittihad, but there was more to it than that. For foreign players, especially in growing leagues, impact can’t be measured by statistics.

Rivelino raised standards on and off the pitch. Being the first Brazilian to play professionally in the region, he opened the door for players from the South American nation to follow and Zico, another midfield legend from the country, almost arrived. Many did come, coaches too, and they have played their part over the years.

 

 

(YouTube video)

Few though could have the impact of Rivelino.  “It was a good place to play football and I played well. I trained hard and I worked hard and it was a good time,” he reflected.

He felt that by the time he retired in 1981, he still could have done a job for a hugely-talented Brazil at the 1982 World Cup even though he was in his mid-thirties.

“They should have come to see me play but today you can play in Saudi Arabia and the national team still remember you but it was different then. 

“But I didn’t have anything to prove to anyone. I gave everything to the club and the club, the players and the fans treated me with respect and Al-Hilal will always have a special place in my heart.”

The same should be the case for anyone with an interest in Saudi Arabian football. Rivelino was one of the first foreign players in the country and remains one of the best.