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)
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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.


Guardiola under pressure as City chase elusive crown

Updated 20 October 2020

Guardiola under pressure as City chase elusive crown

  • Despite all their domestic success in recent years, City have never gone beyond the semifinals of the Champions League

LONDON: Pep Guardiola starts his latest bid to lead Manchester City to Champions League glory with the shadows of past failures casting doubt on his ability to secure that elusive title.

City host Porto in their opening Champions League group match on Wednesday with Guardiola's failing in the tournament weighing heavily on both the Spanish boss and his club.

Despite all their domestic success in recent years, City have never gone beyond the semifinals of the Champions League and Guardiola has found the competition equally vexing for much of the last decade.

Since he won the Champions League as Barcelona boss for the second time in 2011, Guardiola has failed to return to the final of Europe's elite club competition.

That nine-year drought includes four years of frustration since he took charge at City in 2016.

In that time, Guardiola has seen City beaten by Monaco in the last 16 and Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon in the quarterfinals.

He also lost in three semifinals during his time as Bayern Munich manager before moving to City.

Last season's shock 3-1 defeat against Lyon in Lisbon was especially galling as City were heavy favorites against the French side.

Guardiola deserved a large portion of the blame for that letdown after his tactical tinkering appeared to unsettle his players and did nothing to tilt the tie in City's favor.

Interpreted by Guardiola's critics as further proof that his Champions League success at Barcelona was due to the presence of the great Lionel Messi's presence, the only bright side of the Lyon loss was that it was not their farewell to Europe for a while.

For several months last season, it appeared City would not even be competing in the Champions League this term after UEFA gave them a two-year ban from European competitions for Financial Fairplay breaches.

City's legal dream team won that battle and the suspension was eventually thrown out on appeal.

Whether Guardiola can be as successful in Europe as City's Abu Dhabi-based owners were in the court room remains far from certain.

Adding to the unease around City ahead of their European campaign is the unresolved issue of Guardiola's future.

Guardiola is out of contract at the end of the season and has yet to agree on a new deal amid speculation that he may decide to leave the Etihad Stadium in 2021.

For now, Guardiola will focus on Porto's visit to Manchester rather than entertaining questions about his long-term plans.

The 49-year-old insists he has to earn a prolonged stay at City by improving on last season's disappointment, which saw them surrender the Premier League to Liverpool and win only the League Cup.

There have been some worrying signs already as Leicester thrashed City 5-2, while Saturday's 1-0 win against Arsenal was far from convincing.

Significantly, Guardiola was able to welcome back Sergio Aguero last weekend as City's record goalscorer made his first appearance for four months after knee surgery.

City have lacked a cutting edge in Aguero's absence and Guardiola's hopes of a serious Champions League challenge hinge on the Argentine striker staying fit.

"The important thing is that Sergio comes back in good physical condition, starts to get his rhythm, doesn't get more injuries and plays good," Guardiola said.

"We know what he means for us, we know how we appreciate him, but now he has to show like every one of us, me first, that we deserve to continue here and playing good and winning games."