Trolling Haaland and diving - PSG star Neymar may not be popular, but he can get it done
- Neymar ensured Paris Saint-Germain made it to the Champions League quarter-finals but showed his best and worst sides in the process.
Paris Saint-Germain shelled out €222million on Neymar to lead them to the Champions League trophy they covet so desperately. Against Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 he played a significant role in the club taking a step towards that objective.
Foot injuries denied Neymar the chance to take part in the knockout stages during his first two seasons in Paris, meaning he was a bystander as Real Madrid dispatched them in 2017-18 and Manchester United did the same in dramatic circumstances a year later.
History was in danger of repeating itself when the Brazil international suffered a rib injury just 17 days before the first leg – the frustration inevitably increasing with the issue only being announced after his birthday party, although PSG insisted it was sustained in a match against Montpellier the day before.
But Neymar, who won the title with Barcelona in 2015 as part of one of the most formidable attacking line-ups alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, was pivotal in PSG making the quarter-finals for the first time since 2016.
After scoring an away goal in a 2-1 first-leg loss to Dortmund, he headed home the opener at an empty Parc des Princes three weeks later to put Thomas Tuchel's team on the path to progression.
However, Neymar remains a player that splits opinion. He earned likability points for applauding the stands that were empty due to coronavirus concerns when the teams lined up ahead of kick-off, but lost them inside 10 minutes by diving to ground after a clean tackle from Mats Hummels and almost injuring himself by landing awkwardly on his shoulder.
He then showed he's more than just the one-man band he so often tries to be by celebrating with Kylian Mbappe, who was only named on the bench due to illness, after being given free rein by Achraf Hakimi to nod in Angel Di Maria's corner. Following that by trolling Erling Haaland with a replica of his lotus celebration from the first leg – and repeating it with team-mates at full-time – will no doubt have gained appreciation in some quarters and ruffled feathers in others, though.
On respire un bon coup...Avant de retrouver nos supporters pic.twitter.com/uNlcjZozA2— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_inside) March 11, 2020
After Juan Bernat turned in a cross from Pablo Sarabia in first-half stoppage time, PSG were able to ease off and take a more cautious approach in the second half.
Dortmund lacked the gumption to find a route back into the game and their hopes were effectively ended when Emre Can was dismissed following a confrontation with Neymar. The Brazilian went down under pressure from the Germany international and, after getting back to his feet to confront Can, was shoved straight back to the ground.
Neymar, Marquinhos and Di Maria were all shown yellow cards for their role in the ensuing melee on the touchline, but PSG appeared confident they had done enough to get over the line.
At the final whistle Neymar appeared to be trying his best to hold back the tears.
He may not be popular, but when he is fit and at the heart of a sparkling attack he looks capable of taking PSG deep into the competition as is so keenly craved in the French capital.Published 12 Mar 2020, 04:32 IST