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Barcelona will not risk calling up star forward Neymar for the potential title decider with Real Madrid, the Spanish champions said on Sunday, just hours before El Clasico.
The loss of the suspended Brazilian forward deals a big blow to Barcelona’s hopes of denying their fierce rivals a first La Liga crown in five years.
Barcelona appealed to Spain’s Court of Arbitration for Sport (TAD) late on Friday over Neymar’s three-game ban in the hope it would be frozen, which would have allowed him to take part in the must-win showdown at the Santiago Bernabeu.
But with the pivotal clash looming — kick-off is at 1845 GMT on Sunday — Barcelona said they were abandoning their bid to have Neymar available.
“Given the legal uncertainty of the lack of a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport with the game tonight less than 12 hours away, and to focus all attention on the sporting aspect, the club has decided not to call up Neymar,” an angry Barcelona statement said.
The Catalans said the TAD had created “a huge legal void”.
Neymar is in the middle of a suspension for his red card and subsequent sarcastic applause of the officials in Barca’s damaging 2-0 defeat to Malaga two weeks ago.
The club argue that until a ruling on the appeal is held, Neymar’s ban should be suspended and therefore allow him to feature at the Bernabeu.
“As a coach I am prepared to play with Neymar or without him,” manager Luis Enrique said on Saturday.
In the absence of a TAD ruling, Barca would have been taking an enormous risk by playing Neymar as they could have been sanctioned with a defeat for fielding an ineligible player.
Enrique says his last Clasico — he will leave Barcelona this summer — is a must-win: Madrid hold a three-point lead at the top with a game in hand on their rivals.
“Given how close it is to the end of the season it is a decisive weekend,” said Enrique.
“This time a Clasico can decide or almost decide the league or leave it very open. For us it is like a final, only a win will do.”
Bale has been sidelined by an inflammation of the muscles around where he suffered ligament damage in his right ankle that kept him out for three months earlier in the season.
“He will be with us on Sunday,” said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.
“You will see tomorrow what team we are going to start with.”
Should Bale not start, the on-form Isco is favourite to take his place, as he did for Madrid’s thrilling 4-2 Champions League win over Bayern Munich after extra-time in midweek.
Centre-backs Raphael Varane and Pepe are Madrid’s only injury absentees meaning Zidane is expected to name the same starting XI as against Bayern.
“There is a lot of tiredness, but also a lot of excitement and desire to keep doing what we are doing,” added the Frenchman.
Only victory will salvage Barca’s season after crashing out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage to Juventus in midweek.
“For some it means it is a very attractive challenge and for others it means pressure,” Enrique said.
“I prefer to take it as an attractive and marvellous challenge. It’s a chance to move level on points with Madrid.”
Little over a month after producing the greatest comeback in Champions League history, Barcelona need another special turnaround as they face Juventus in the second leg of their quarter-final on Wednesday.
Luis Enrique’s side were taken apart in the first leg in Turin, losing 3-0 to a Juve team inspired by Paulo Dybala, who scored twice.
In the last 16 they became the first team ever to overturn a 4-0 deficit when they beat Paris Saint-Germain 6-1 in the return at the Camp Nou, so fans are hoping for a similar “remuntada” this time.
“We are going to take as many risks as we need to the point that we could go out with eight strikers, as we have nothing to lose,” said Luis Enrique after Saturday’s 3-2 defeat of Real Sociedad.
The Barcelona coach also called for supporters “to have faith in these players who have won everything. This is a squad of champions.”
But he added: “The thing is that we are used to always eating beluga caviar. That can’t go on forever.”
Barca welcome back midfielder Sergio Busquets from suspension, while Juve are hopeful Dybala will be ready after he came off in the 2-0 weekend win at Pescara with a sprained ankle.
“We have four days and we need to be optimistic,” declared coach Massimiliano Allegri.
In contrast to their fierce rivals, Real Madrid are very much on course for a semi-final berth after their 2-1 win away to Bayern Munich last week.
The sides clash at the Santiago Bernabeu in Tuesday’s second leg with the Germans looking to become just the third side to overturn a first-leg home defeat to win a Champions League tie.
Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti has fitness concerns with leading scorer Robert Lewandowski hopeful of returning from a shoulder injury.
Defenders Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng are also fighting to be fit, while Javi Martinez is suspended.
“We go to Madrid well aware of the fact that nothing is impossible,” Thomas Mueller told Bundesliga.com.
“We’re annoyed any time we don’t win, but we have our own way of playing. No matter what problems or injuries we have to deal with, we’re always able to put a strong team out there on the pitch.”
Gareth Bale is struggling to shake off a calf problem for Real, who have lost just twice in 12 past home meetings with Bayern.
Borussia Dortmund go to Monaco still shaken by the events of last week, when the first leg between the clubs was postponed by 24 hours following the bomb attack on the German team’s bus en route to the game.
Dortmund went on to lose 3-2 to the French league leaders but morale was lifted as they got back to winning ways in the Bundesliga at the weekend, beating Eintracht Frankfurt 3-1.
After that game, the Dortmund players paid tribute to defender Marc Bartra by holding his number five shirt aloft as they celebrated in front of their fans.
Spanish international Bartra had earlier been released from hospital after having surgery on a broken wrist suffered in the attack.
“This gesture shows how important the things off the field are to us at this moment, and that Marc gets better soon and that we are all still here,” said Dortmund captain Marcel Schmelzer.
Monaco, looking to become the first French side in the Champions League semi-finals since Lyon seven years ago, are missing the banned Fabinho as well as Djibril Sidibe, who is recovering from appendicitis.
Leicester City have defensive concerns as they look to turn around a 1-0 deficit when they host last season’s runners-up Atletico Madrid.
Robert Huth is suspended and the Foxes are hoping Wes Morgan can return from a back injury as the English champions look to extend their run in Europe. Atletico have French striker Kevin Gameiro back from a groin injury.
Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar were all on target as Barcelona shrugged off the loss of the injured Sergio Busquets to remain just two points behind La Liga leaders Real Madrid with a 4-0 win at Eibar on Sunday.
Sevilla separate the giants of Spanish football in second, just a point behind Madrid, after twice coming from behind to edge a seven-goal thriller 4-3 at rock-bottom Osasuna.
However, Real Madrid also have a game in hand over their title rivals.
Barca’s visit to the Basque Country was only eight minutes in when Busquets had to be carried off with ankle ligament damage after a dangerous challenge from Gonzalo Escalante that went unpunished.
“The good news about Sergio Busquets is that it doesn’t look as serious as we first thought,” Barca boss Luis Enrique told Spanish TV station Movistar.
The visitors were briefly unsettled as a fine save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen prevented Adrian Gonzalez giving Eibar a shock lead at the tiny 6,200 capacity Ipurua.
Yet, there was little doubt over the outcome once Denis Suarez, who had replaced Busquets, drilled home his first Barca goal into the far corner from outside the box on the half hour mark.
Neymar missed a one-on-one and Luis Suarez hit the post as Barca squandered a series of chances to kill off the game before half-time.
However, Messi doubled their lead just six minutes into the second-half when he swept home Luis Suarez’s cross for his 28th goal in 26 games this season.
And Luis Suarez matched his strike partner as La Liga’s top scorer this season with 15 when he robbed Florian Lejeune before slotting home at the near post 22 minutes from time.
Neymar hadn’t scored from open play since October, but brought that run to an end by slotting home Aleix Vidal’s low cross in stoppage time.
“A positive run of results means everything flows better, the players have more confidence,” added Enrique after a fourth straight win.
“But we are still far off where we want to be.”
“The team did some good things and made mistakes, but from start to finish looked to win the game,” said Sevilla boss Jorge Sampaoli.
“To finish the first half of the season with a record number of points (42) and be second fills us with excitement for what is to come.”
Sergio Leon gave Osasuna a shock early lead before an unusual hat-trick from Sevilla captain Vicente Iborra levelled at 2-2 as he twice equalised either side of an own goal to restore Osasuna’s lead.
Osasuna were infuriated Franco Vazquez’s vital third goal for Sevilla was allowed to stand despite a push on Oriol Riera 10 minutes from time.
Pablo Sarabia’s fine left-footed shot from outside the area sealed the points, but there was still time for Osasuna to pull another goal back when Kenan Kodro headed in from close range.
Atletico Madrid lost further ground on the top three as they needed a spectacular Antoine Griezmann equaliser 10 minutes from time to secure a 2-2 draw at Athletic Bilbao.
Diego Simeone’s men are now eight points back on Real Madrid.
The visitors got off to the perfect start when Koke’s cross towards Griezmann evaded everyone and flew into the far corner after just three minutes.
However, Atletico were punished for trying to sit on their lead when Inigo Lekue smashed home an equaliser three minutes before half-time.
Athletic then went in front as former Atletico favourite Raul Garcia crossed for Oscar de Marcos to head home.
Griezmann had already had one spectacular finish ruled out by the offside flag, but the French international continued his fine form with a rasping low drive from 25 yards to at least salvage a point for Atletico.
Real Sociedad move level on points with Atletico in fourth as Juanmi’s towering header 18 minutes from time handed them a 1-0 win over Celta Vigo.
Neymar scored his 50th international goal as Brazil thrashed arch-rivals Argentina 3-0 in their 2018 World Cup qualifying duel here Thursday.
Barcelona superstar Neymar took his tally to 50 goals in 74 games as Brazil recorded their fifth consecutive victory under new coach Tite to remain on top of South America’s qualification table.
Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho also scored as the Brazilians made a triumphant return to the Estadio Mineiro, scene of their 7-1 2014 World Cup semi-final humiliation against Germany.
Brazil now head the 10-team round-robin competition with 24 points from 11 games.
But the defeat deepens the sense of crisis enveloping Argentina, who have taken just two points from their last four games and now languish in sixth place overall, one spot outside the qualifying positions for the finals in Russia.
Brazil powered into a 2-0 lead in the first half after two wonderfully worked goals from Coutinho and Neymar.
Argentina had started brightly, with Lionel Messi drawing a foul from Fernandinho in the opening minutes which earned the Manchester City midfielder a yellow card from Chilean referee Julio Bascunan.
The Argentines created the first chance of the evening when Lucas Biglia’s venomous shot from outside the area was well saved by Brazil goalkeeper Alisson on 23 minutes.
But after weathering the early pressure Brazil began to probe more effectively and on 25 minutes took the lead through Coutinho.
The Liverpool playmaker gathered the ball wide out on the left flank and accelerated purposefully towards the Argentina area.
The attacking midfielder’s pace took him past Nicolas Otamendi with ease before he unleashed a thunderous strike that crashed into the top corner.
It got better on the stroke of half-time when Neymar completed his half-century of international goals.
Another clinical Brazil attack culminated with teenage star Gabriel Jesus splitting the Argentine defence with an exquisite pass that sent Neymar through on goal.
The Barcelona striker coolly rolled his finish past the advancing Sergio Romero and Brazil were in complete control.
Neymar — still only 24 — is now closing in on Romario’s mark of 55 goals and is firmly on track to surpass Pele’s record haul of 77 goals in 91 games.
Brazil were quick to get into their stride in the second half, and Paulinho nearly made it 3-0 only to be denied by a Pablo Zabaleta goal-line clearance on 55 minutes.
Paulinho made no mistake four minutes later though, tucking away a close range finish after a low cross from Renato Augusto.
Lionel Messi shrugged off his recent woes from the penalty spot with a decisive 94th-minute spot-kick to move Barcelona top of La Liga with a pulsating 3-2 win at Valencia on Saturday.
However, the dramatic victory came at a cost for Barca as a tearful Andres Iniestasuffered ligament damage in his right knee that could keep him out for several months.
Messi netted twice and his opener midway through the first half was allowed to stand despite Luis Suarez straying into an offside position.
Valencia hit back with two goals in six second-half minutes through on-loan Barca winger Munir El Haddadi and Rodrigo.
However, Suarez levelled and was then upended inside the area by Aymen Abdennour to allow Messi to hold his nerve and slot past penalty-stopping specialist Diego Alves for all three points.
Victory moves the champions a point clear of Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, who face Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao respectively on Sunday.
He may be one of the finest footballers ever but Messi has struggled from the spot in recent seasons, most notably blazing over as Argentina lost the Copa America final to Chile in June.
“Our best penalty-taker is Leo Messi without any doubt,” Barca boss Luis Enrique said.
Valencia stopper Alves had saved three penalties this season and from Messi in the past, but was beaten low to his right.
“Messi took responsibility in the best moment and it is a glorious feeling for us,” added Enrique.
A bad-tempered encounter spilled over after Messi’s strike, though, as Suarez and Neymar were hit by a plastic bottle thrown by the Valencia fans as Barca celebrated.
“We celebrated as it is normal to celebrate a last-minute winner,” said Enrique.
The game was only 14 minutes old when Iniesta was carried from the field in tears holding his right knee, which buckled under a heavy challenge from Enzo Perez.
Enrique was furious with referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco as Perez avoided even a yellow card, whilst a series of other fouls on Barca players went unpunished.
Barca confirmed Iniesta suffered lateral collateral ligament damage, but said further tests would be carried out to determine the exact extent of the injury.
However, it was Valencia who were up in arms at the officials when Messi opened the scoring on 22 minutes.
The Argentine’s fifth goal in three games since returning from a groin injury sneaked in at Alves’s near post, but the Brazilian goalkeeper had been distracted by the presence of the offside Suarez jumping over Messi’s effort.
“It is lamentable, absolutely lamentable that refereeing decisions prevented Valencia from taking a point or more from this match,” Valencia sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch told BeIN Sports Spain.
Valencia turned the game around early in the second half as Dani Parejo’s cut-back was drilled into the bottom corner by El Haddadi against his parent club.
The 21-year-old held his hands up apologetically after finding the net, but there were wild celebrations led by new Valencia boss Cesare Prandelli moments later when Rodrigo swept home Nani’s through ball.
Valencia’s lead lasted just six minutes despite Alves’s best efforts as Suarez pounced to smash home a rebound after Ivan Rakitic’s powerful header had been saved by the Valencia stopper.
Barca swarmed forward in search of a winner, but had to wait until deep into stoppage time when Messi played in Suarez and he was clearly taken out from behind by Abdennour.
Messi stroked home his 14th goal of the season to secure a vital three points in the title race.
Earlier, Espanyol battled back from 3-0 down at half-time to salvage a point and possibly coach Quique Sanchez Flores’s job in a 3-3 draw at home to Eibar.
Granada and Sporting Gijon remain in the relegation zone after a 0-0, whilst Real Sociedad moved into the top half with a comfortable 3-0 win over Alaves.
Brazil hammered Bolivia 5-0 in World Cup qualifiers on Thursday, giving coach Tite his third successive win in the most convincing performance from the five-time world champions for some time.
Bolivia had not won a World Cup qualifier away from home since 1993 but Brazil were still excellent, particularly in the first half, when they scored four of their five goals.
Neymar opened the scoring after just 10 minutes when he dispossessed Ronaldo Raldes on the halfway line and then worked a one-two with Gabriel Jesus, who left him with a simple tap in.
Philippe Coutinho doubled their lead 15 minutes later when he capitalised on great work from Giuliano and Dani Alves to poke home from close range.
Filipe Luis started the move for the third in his own half and after feeding Neymar, got the return pass and slotted the ball inside Carlos Lampe’s near post.
Gabriel Jesus gave them a 4-0 lead two minutes before half time when he deftly chipped Neymar’s pass over Lampe.
Substitute Roberto Firmino scored the fifth from a corner after 75 minutes, meaning Brazil stay in second place in the 10-team South American qualifying group.
The top four qualify automatically for Russia 2018 with the fifth place side playing the Oceania champions in an inter-continental showdown.
Uruguay maintained their place at the top of the group on 19 points, one ahead of Brazil with a 3-0 win over Venezuela.
Nicolas Lodeiro headed home the opener in 28 minutes and then Edinson Cavani doubled their lead just seconds after half time before adding a third 12 minutes from time.
Ecuador eased past Chile by the same scoreline with Antonio Valenzuela and Cristian Ramirez scoring in the first half before Felipe Caicedo made it three a minute into the second period to move into third on the standings on 16 points.
Copa America champions Chile are struggling with 11points from nine games.
Edwin Carmona gave Colombia a 1-0 win in Paraguay when he dinked home a lovely chip in injury time.
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique and Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone have launched impassioned defences of Neymar after the Brazilian’s showboating again came under the spotlight.
Former Barcelona great Michael Laudrup lambasted the Brazil international for “provoking” the opposition in Saturday’s 5-1 win at Leganes and Neymar’s flamboyant style will be scrutinised again on Wednesday when Barcelona host Atletico.
Commentating on Saturday’s game at Leganes for BeIN sports, Laudrup said he understood why Lluis Sastre kicked out at Neymar during the game.
“Why are you taking the ball across your own half? You’re provoking the opposition. When it’s 4-0 you can’t be showboating and provoking your opponents,” Laudrup said.
Neymar’s penchant for trying to embarrass opponents with flicks and tricks has prompted criticism in Spain before, with Luis Enrique once declaring he sympathised with Athletic Bilbao players for fouling Neymar in the 2015 King’s Cup final.
The coach, however, took his player’s side when questioned about Laudrup’s comments.
“He has his own style and I think it’s spectacular for football. We enjoy his play a lot at Barca,” Luis Enrique told a news conference on Tuesday.
“We know what world we live in and what people focus on, but I like his concept of football, and no-one in La Liga can be surprised by it now.
“Perhaps it’s better to criticise things that are against the rules, as there is nothing saying you cannot do spectacular tricks.”
Atletico coach Simeone also defended Neymar when asked if he would be bothered if Neymar attempted similar tricks against his side on Wednesday.
“He has a particular style of play, like everyone else, but I love it,” Simeone said on Tuesday.
“He has been criticised and they have exposed his private life. He has fun, he sings he dances and he destroys opponents. They can keep criticising him. He needs to respond on the pitch.”
Simeone added: “He’s extraordinary. He went to the Olympics and won gold, he has found his place at Barcelona to showcase his talent, he has just come back from holidays and he’s still playing just as well.
“He has a personality that allows him to do all that, and I love watching him.”
Barca boss Luis Enrique admitted he must take responsibility for the Spanish champions’ shock home defeat to newly promoted Alaves after starting Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez on the bench.
Enrique made seven changes on Saturday after many of his squad returned to club duty after taking part in World Cup qualifiers around the world in the past week, whilst Messi was also struggling with a minor groin injury.
“I am the one ultimately responsible for all the bad things that happen,” said the Barca boss after suffering just his fifth home league defeat in three seasons in charge at the Camp Nou.
“Many of the changes came from the circumstances surrounding us, but we have 22 players and we are going to use everyone this season.”
As well as leaving out Messi and Suarez, Enrique changed his entire back four, whilst goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen and striker Paco Alcacer made their debuts.
Deyverson beat Cillessen from close range to hand Alaves a surprise lead before half-time, but Jeremy Mathieu brought Barca back into the game when he headed homeNeymar’s corner a minute into the second-half.
Mathieu somehow then blasted wide when it seemed easier to score from another set-piece before Barca’s makeshift defence was caught out once more when Ibai Gomez slotted home the winner.
Enrique called upon Messi, Suarez and Andres Iniesta from the bench, but even they couldn’t break Alaves’s resistance as Messi fired wide deep into stoppage time.
“We lacked fluidity, precision and we were fragile in defence, which is one of the things that normally makes us strong,” added Enrique.
“The one positive is it is a time to reflect on what this team has won over the years. Everyone makes us favourites for everything, but it is not easy to win any game.”
Enrique is expected to revert back to his strongest line-up for Celtic’s visit to the Camp Nou to start their Champions League campaign.
The Scottish club will be high on confidence after thrashing old rivals Rangers 5-1 on Saturday.
“It’s clear it wasn’t our best game, they didn’t have many chances but they were very effective,” said midfielder Sergio Busquets.
“We lacked a spark, we lacked a lot of things. It is hard to say it is a deserved defeat because they also didn’t create a lot.
“Now we have to think about Celtic because the season rolls on.”
And Iniesta insisted Barca will have licked their wounds and learned the lesson in time for the visit of the Scottish champions.
“We have to do better in the next game in a different competition,” added the Spanish international. “As always when there is a defeat, we have to analyse it and correct it for the next game.”
Barcelona’s fearsome front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar could join forces for the first time in four months against Alaves, while Cristiano Ronaldo will make his Real Madrid return on Saturday.
Neymar has missed Barca’s 100 percent start to the season due to his efforts in leading Brazil to Olympic gold on home soil, but returned to Spain for the first time since May after more international duty in World Cup qualifying this week and is expected to start at the Camp Nou.
Messi is a much bigger doubt after missing Argentina’s clash with Venezuela in midweek due to a groin problem. The five-time World Player of the Year has played a limited part in training in recent days and coach Luis Enrique is likely to be cautious for the first of seven games in 22 days for Barca.
Paco Alcacer is in line to make his debut after sealing a 30 million-euro ($33 million) move from Valencia and the Spanish international striker is aware he will have to make the most of limited opportunities as fourth choice behind Messi, Suarez and Neymar.
“I will do everything I can to take advantage of the chances I have to the full,” Alcacer said as he was presented on Thursday.
Andres Iniesta has also returned to training following a knee injury and will battle Arda Turan and Denis Suarez for a place in midfield as both have impressed early in the campaign.
Ronaldo makes his long-awaited return at the Santiago Bernabeu against Osasuna earlier on Saturday in what will be his first appearance since suffering ligament damage in his left knee during Portugal’s Euro 2016 final win over France.
Real haven’t suffered in Ronaldo’s absence with two wins from their opening two La Liga games and victory over Sevilla in the European Super Cup.
And after winning two Champions League titles in his first three seasons at Madrid, Gareth Bale insists the European champions have to put more emphasis on ending a four-year run without winning La Liga.
“It’s important to try to win La Liga because it’s been a few years since we have and it’s normal that it’s our focus,” said Bale.
“I’m looking forward to next weekend’s game against Osasuna and I’m sure that they will make it difficult for us, but it’ll be great to be able to call upon almost the whole squad.”
Karim Benzema and Pepe have also returned from injury to leave Zinedine Zidane with a fully-fit squad bar the absence of goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
Champions League finalists Atletico Madrid desperately need to kickstart their season after back-to-back disappointing draws with Alaves and Leganes when they visit Celta Vigo in the first match in a new early Saturday kick-off time of 1300 (1100GMT) designed to compete with the English Premier League in Asian television markets.
Celta finished sixth last season, but have also endured a poor start with defeats in both their opening matches and the Galicians will be without influential playmaker Fabian Orellana for a month due to a muscle tear.
Early season leaders Las Palmas have been on fire in scoring nine goals in their opening two games to shoot ahead of Barca and Madrid to the top of the table for the first time in 38 years.
However, the searing Spanish heat could get in their way this weekend with record temperatures for September registered across the country.
League chief Javier Tebas has promised players’ safety won’t be risked and Las Palmas’ visit to Sevilla is one of a number of games that could be delayed or even postponed if temperatures are deemed to be too high.
Brazil superstar Neymar struck the winning penalty as the hosts claimed a first ever Olympic football gold medal before announcing his intention to step down as captain of the national team.
The Barcelona forward slotted home to jubilant scenes at a packed Maracana as a 5-4 shoot-out win over Germany, after a 1-1 draw, exacted revenge for a humiliating 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat to the world champions two years ago.
“This is one of the best things that has happened in my life,” said Neymar, who sank to his knees in tears after scoring from the spot.
However, he also suddenly stepped down as captain after taking on the role in 2014 following Brazil’s disastrous World Cup exit.
“It was an honour to be captain, but from today I am no longer captain,” he told SporTV.
Olympic gold was the only major title to have escaped five-time world champions Brazil in their history.
In front of the biggest crowd of Rio’s Games, including nine-time Jamaican gold medallistUsain Bolt, Neymar’s brilliant free-kick handed Brazil a first-half lead.
In honour of the retiring sprinting great, Neymar even adopted the “lightning bolt” celebration, whilst chants of “ole, ole, ole, Neymar” rang around Rio’s most iconic arena.
However, Germany captain Max Meyer enjoyed a special celebration of his own as he taunted the raucous 78,000 crowd at the Maracana by kissing the number seven on his shirt when he swept home Jeremy Toljan’s cross just before the hour mark.
The first eight penalties in the shootout were all successful before Brazil goalkeeper Weverton stopped Nils Petersen’s effort to set the stage for Neymar.
And he didn’t disappoint as, with the weight of a nation on his shoulders, he rifled the ball into the top corner.
“Now they’ll (the critics) have to swallow what they said,” added Neymar after being fiercely criticised for his underwhelming early displays in the tournament.
Brazil Olympic coach Rogerio Micale said Neymar’s decision to leave the captaincy in the hands of new senior coach Tite demonstrated his newfound “maturity.”
“It demonstrates maturity on Neymar’s part. He is a leader in the national team, he is dedicated,” said Micale.
“I finish this tournament with the best possible impressions of Neymar as do the team.”
And departing German coach Horst Hrubesch refused to be downhearted with silver on Germany’s first appearance at the Games for 28 years.
“I am smiling all the time because I am proud of what we achieved.”
In stark contrast to the empty seats on show across the Games, even for some of Bolt’s marquee races, there wasn’t a seat to be had at the Maracana — where Germany won the World Cup against Lionel Messi’s Argentina two years ago.
However, it was for the 7-1 mauling in Belo Horizonte five days previously that Brazil were seeking revenge.
None of the players that took to the field that day started on Saturday.
Neymar missed the darkest day in Brazil’s football history due to two broken bones in his back suffered during a bruising quarter-final win over Colombia.
Yet, the good fortune that escaped Brazil on home soil two years ago was certainly with them in the first-half as Germany were desperately unlucky to go in behind at the break.
Julian Brandt’s fine curling effort came back off the bar, whilst Sven Bender also hit the woodwork from close range.
In between times, Neymar had opened the scoring via the bar with a sumptuous dipping effort from 25 yards for his third goal of the tournament.
However, Weverton was beaten for the first time in the competition just before the hour mark when Meyer swept home Toljan’s low cross.
Brazil piled on the pressure in the final half hour of normal time as Gabriel Jesus turnedRenato Augusto’s dangerous cross just wide, substitute Felipe Anderson fluffed his lines and Neymar’s effort from distance flew just off target.
Thankfully for Micale’s men they were far more clinical from the spot as Augusto, Marquinhos, Rafinha and Luan all netted to hand Neymar the chance to live up to his billing as the host’s poster boy for the Games.
Neymar led Brazil into the semi-finals of the Olympics with his first goal of the competition to edge the third of a trilogy of grudge matches with Colombia in three years 2-0.
The Barcelona star curled home an inch-perfect free-kick after just 12 minutes of Saturday’s game, but was lucky to escape with a yellow card for chopping down Andres Roa and provoking a brawl between the two teams just before half-time.
The hosts controlled their emotions better after the break and Luan sealed the win with a dipping effort from outside the box seven minutes from time.
“This is what we have dreamed of. It is not an easy road, but we want the medal,” said Luan.
Brazil will face Honduras in Wednesday’s semi-final in Rio after the Central Americans stunned South Korea 1-0 thanks to Alberth Elis’s winner in Belo Horizonte.
Germany, who beat Portugal 4-0, face Nigeria in the other semi-final after the Africans beat Denmark 2-0.
Neymar missed that match having been stretchered off in tears with two broken vertebrae when Brazil dumped a James Rodriguez-inspired Colombia out of a bruising quarter-final two years ago. The match saw 54 fouls.
Colombia got their revenge by ending Neymar’s tournament prematurely once more at last year’s Copa America, this time through suspension. The Brazilian lost his head at the end of a 1-0 defeat and aimed a head-butt at Jeison Murillo that earned a four-game ban.
Eased by the relief of avoiding another embarrassing exit on home soil with a 4-0 win over Denmark on Wednesday to win Group A after back-to-back 0-0 draws with Iraq and South Africa, Brazil started brightly.
“In the first two games we were a bit anxious, but after (against Denmark) we got the goals and the team felt more at ease on the pitch,” added Luan.
Neymar, the poster boy for the Games, finally got off the mark at the fourth attempt when he curled home a free-kick from 25 yards.
The match then descended into a blood bath when Neymar sparked a brawl by crudely chopping down Roa.
The 24-year-old received just a yellow card, but four Colombians also found themselves booked before half-time as they sought retribution.
“These knockout games are like this,” said Brazil midfielder Renato Augusto.
“They are about gritted teeth, keeping your temper, sometimes the football gets left behind, but you have to always be concentrated.
“We count on Neymar to invent something when things get difficult.”
Despite their struggles early on in the tournament, Brazil are still yet to concede and sealed a place in their third consecutive Olympic semi-final when Luan’s effort from outside the area left Bonilla helpless.
“It was a tough game. It was physical, tense…to play against Colombia is never easy because they are a great team,” said Paris Saint-Germain defender Marquinhos.
“This victory gives us a lot of strength for what is to come because Colombia were one of the stronger sides that could have got to the final.”
Mercilessly cast as “greedy” and “missing” for failing to fire Brazil to victory in their Rio 2016 opener against South Africa, Neymar and his highly-touted teammates need a big response against Iraq on Sunday.
A 0-0 draw against a South African side reduced to 10 men for the final half hour on Thursday was met with a chorus of boos by a near 70,000 capacity crowd in Brasilia.
Brazil were expected to launch the Games in style as red hot favourites to land a first Olympic football gold thanks to the presence of Barcelona superstar Neymar.
However, he suffered the most severe backlash in the Brazilian press Friday after losing possession 27 times, more than double any other Brazilian player.
“Greedy Neymar becomes a problem in the Olympic team,” said ESPN Brazil.
“Inexplicably, Brazil did everything contrary to what they rehearsed and preached for 17 days (in preparation),” added Rio newspaper O Globo. “Neymar was missing too.”
However, Neymar, who still had Brazil’s two best efforts brilliantly saved by Itumeleng Khune, defended his decision to act as more of a playmaker, comparing his role to that occupied by five-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi at Barcelona.
“Sometimes you end up playing according to a certain player. It’s like how Barcelona play. We play according Messi, he is the guy who plays more on the ball and we end up moving off the ball,” he said.
“It’s why we don’t get bothered by touching the ball into Messi, that’s what many people do not understand.”
However, Brazil coach Rogerio Micale defended his star and captain, citing rustiness as Neymar hadn’t been involved in competitive action since May 22 after skipping the Copa America in June.
“I think we have to see he is coming off a long holiday period and is regaining the pace of play,” said Micale.
“He will grow a lot during the competition, I have great confidence in him.”
Neymar didn’t face the ire of the Brazilian press alone.
Manchester City’s new £27 million ($36 million) signing Gabriel Jesus somehow managed to hit the post when presented with an open goal.
“I will not sleep tonight,” admitted the 19-year-old.
Another slip-up against Iraq back in Brasilia is unimaginable for the hosts, but they will face a well-prepared and highly-motivated opponent who enjoyed the better of their opening 0-0 draw with Denmark.
In contrast to Brazil’s short preparation time, Iraq have been in training camps across Europe for months in the build-up to the Games with the aim of surpassing their run to fourth at the Athens Games in 2004 when they beat a Portugal side containing Cristiano Ronaldo.
“For us it is an honour to be here,” said Iraq coach Abdulghani Alghazali.
“In Brazil, we have earned the sympathy of the local people. Our next game, against them, will be very important for us.”
Brazil aren’t the only big nation in need of quick turnaround in fortunes on Sunday.
Two-time gold medallists Argentina face Algeria after suffering a 2-0 opening defeat to Portugal.
Defending champions Mexico opened with a 2-2 draw against Germany, but are expected to pile more misery on Fiji, who lost 8-0 to South Korea on Thursday. Germany also face the Koreans in Salvador.
Nigeria’s Oghenekaro Etebo was the star of the opening round with four goals in a thrilling 5-4 win over Japan as the Africans shrugged off the jetlag with ease having arrived in the Amazonian city of Manaus, nearly 3,000km from Rio, just hours before kick-off.
Another win for the gold medal winners 20 years ago in Atlanta against Sweden will seal their place in the last eight.
Japan look to bounce back against Colombia, Denmark meet South Africa with both in search of their first win, whilst Honduras and Portugal face off with both well-placed after opening wins.
Ten-man Barcelona retained the King’s Cup with a 2-0 victory over Sevilla to complete a domestic double thanks to extra-time goals by Jordi Alba and Neymar at the Vicente Calderon stadium on Sunday.
Luis Enrique’s La Liga champions had Javier Mascherano sent off in the 36th minute but kept the score at 0-0 before Sevilla had Ever Banega dismissed in added time at the end of 90 minutes.
With both teams down to 10 men, Barcelona began to take control in the extra period and left back Alba burst down the wing to score in the 97th after a superb chip from Lionel Messi.
Sevilla were then reduced to nine players when defender Daniel Carrico was sent off for dissent late on and Neymar doubled Barcelona’s lead after also being set up by Messi.
It was the 28th time Barca had won the trophy but they had to battle as Unai Emery’s side, who won the Europa League for the third time in a row last week, piled on the pressure.
“It was difficult, especially playing for so long with 10 men against a side like Sevilla,” Alba told Spanish television. “I’m happy to have scored and done the double.
“We couldn’t play the game we wanted but the side showed guts and we did what was needed.”
Barca captain and man of the match Andres Iniesta said the triumph sealed a great season for the club despite some suggesting their Champions League elimination, and thus failure to repeat the treble of 2015-16, spoiled the campaign.
“It was a nice final, intense and exciting,” he said. “It was a last push for the club to complete a magnificent season. All finals are hard, but this was great, both we and Sevilla played well.”
The game’s dynamic changed drastically when Kevin Gameiro, whose pace troubled Barca all night, was brought down when Mascherano grabbed his shirt on the edge of the box.
Referee Carlos del Cerro Grande sent the Argentine off and Sevilla began to take control. Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen tipped Banega’s free kick over the bar and then watched the midfielder’s next effort hit the inside of the post.
Barca top scorer Luis Suarez limped off injured just before the hour mark, with the Uruguayan crying on the bench.
Sevilla wanted a penalty when Barca right back Dani Alves tangled with Vicente Iborra but their appeal was waved away, while Sergio Rico saved Messi’s free-kick.
Argentine Banega tripped Neymar just before the game went to extra time and was sent off, handing Barcelona the momentum.
Seven minutes into the extra period, Messi lofted a perfectly weighted ball over the defence for Alba who ran through and fired a shot across Rico into the bottom corner.
Then Carrico was shown two yellow cards, the first for a foul on Messi and the second for arguing about it, before Messi played in Neymar, who rolled the ball home to end the contest.
Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar were being touted as the best strike force in football history a month ago as they spearheaded Barcelona’s record unbeaten run but the tiring trio are now taking the blame as the club’s season unravels.
The Madrid clubs are suddenly snapping at Barca’s heels in the title race, with Atletico having also knocked them out of the Champions League to end the Catalans’ hopes of a second successive treble.
Barca’s ‘MSN’ South American strikeforce, who have scored 110 of the team’s 147 goals this season in all competitions, have suddenly gone off the boil and the most common reason cited by Spanish media for their loss of form is fatigue.
La Liga leaders Barca have played 56 games so far this season, seven more than Atletico and 12 more than Real Madrid, due to their participation in the Club World Cup, European Super Cup, Spanish Super Cup and their run to the King’s Cup final.
Messi and Neymar have each played 43 games and Suarez 47.
Luis Enrique has been reluctant to rest his jaded forwards and, remarkably, made no substitutions in Sunday’s 2-1 home defeat by Valencia, suggesting he has little faith in the members of his squad beyond the regular starting 11.
The under-pressure coach has denied that Barca’s woes are due to fatigue and, after the latest setback, berated a reporter who asked him about the players’ physical decline.
But it is clear that Barcelona, and especially the forwards, are not as sharp as two months ago when they destroyed Valencia 7-0 in a King’s Cup semi-final game and thrashed Celta Vigo 6-1 as part of a run of 39 games undefeated in all competitions.
Sunday’s loss was Barca’s third straight reverse in the league for the first time since 2003, leaving them level on points with Atletico, who they led by nine at the start of April, and a point ahead of Real.
Eliminated from the Champions League after last week’s 2-0 second-leg loss at Atletico, Barcelona’s campaign has unravelled since the players returned from the international break.
The ‘MSN’ trident went to South America for World Cup qualifiers in late March and have not looked the same since.
Messi got his 500th career goal on Sunday but that was his only goal in his last six club games, while Neymar has not found the net in his last five.
The Brazilian has come in for most criticism from the Spanish media since Barca’s slump began, with Sport newspaper claiming he has ‘disappeared’ since January’s FIFA Ballon d’Or ceremony where he came third behind Messi and Ronaldo.
It is not just the trio’s goals that have dried up either. Their chemistry before the rot set in was evident, with Luis Enrique joking in February that all he had to do was say ‘Abracadabra’ to get them to work their magic.
In the Champions League defeat at Atletico, the three players failed to gel, playing just 12 passes to each other with Messi completing one to Neymar and none to Suarez. Enrique needs to quickly come up with a new spell to save the season.
Brazilian superstar Neymarwas Friday given the go-ahead to play at the Olympics by his club Barcelona but was ordered not to take part in the Copa America, local media reported.
Brazil coach Dunga had been hoping to have the influential striker at both tournaments — the Copa in the United States from June 3-26 and the Rio Olympics football tournament which runs from August 4-20.
But in a letter sent to the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), and seen by Globoesporte and Mundo Deportivo, European champions Barcelona insist that Neymar needs to have adequate rest over the summer before the start of the next domestic season.
The CBF refused to confirm to AFP that they had received such a request from the Spanish giants.
According to Mundo Deportivo, Neymar has proposed a solution to the impasse — he will sit out the group phase at the Copa and only play from the quarter-finals stages before heading to the Olympics.
FIFA regulations demand that clubs release players for tournaments on the the international calendar A-list which includes the Copa but not the Olympics which does not figure on the global body’s international schedule.
Neymar, who is 24, would be one of the three players over the age of 23 who are allowed to feature in an Olympic football squad.
Barcelona squandered the chance to go 11 points clear in La Liga on Sunday after blowing a two-goal lead in the space of six minutes in a 2-2 draw at Villarreal that was overshadowed by a controversial penalty.
A 62nd minute own goal by Barcelona substitute Jeremy Mathieu, who turned a corner into his own net, ended Barca’s hopes of a 13th successive La Liga win after Villarreal striker Cedric Bakambu reduced the deficit.
Ivan Rakitic gave Barca the lead after 20 minutes from close range and Neymar made it 2-0 in the 41st with a chipped penalty as goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo, who looked to have touched the ball before felling Neymar in the box, went the wrong way.
Barcelona are nine points clear of nearest challengers Atletico Madrid, who suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at Sporting Gijon on Saturday. Third-placed Real Madrid beat Sevilla 4-0 to stand 10 points off the pace and one behind their city rivals.
“It’s a positive day for us as we’re one point closer to our objective,” Barca coach Luis Enrique told a news conference. “Every point we gain on our rivals is fantastic.”
Fourth-placed Villarreal had coach Marcelino dismissed from the dugout just after Rakitic’s goal when he protested at the referee’s decision not to give a second yellow card to Barcelona defender Gerard Pique following a handball.
Referee Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez’s decision not to book Pique for the handball was controversial, as the defender would have been suspended for Barca’s next league game against arch rivals Real Madrid had he been dismissed.
The official further enraged the home supporters before the break when he awarded the penalty when Asenjo appeared to reach the ball before sending Neymar over.
Real Madrid’s attacking trident of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo were all on target in a 4-0 win over Sevilla that took Zinedine Zidane’s side within a point of second-placed Atletico Madrid.
Bale converted from close range for the third and his 43rd league goal for Madrid, surpassing ex-Barca forward Gary Lineker to become the all-time top scoring British player in La Liga.
Welshman Bale, who also hit the woodwork against Sevilla and had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside in the first half, needed 75 games to eclipse former England striker Lineker, who hit 42 goals in 103 games for Barcelona from 1986 to 1989.
Benzema opened the scoring in the sixth minute with a brilliant half-volley while Keylor Navas preserved the lead by saving Kevin Gameiro’s penalty before the break, the third spot kick the Real goalkeeper has stopped this season.
Ronaldo also missed a penalty — for the third time this season — in the second half before Gameiro had an effort harshly ruled out for offside.
Ronaldo pounced from close range after 64 minutes to wrap up the points and made a gesture of apology to the home fans, while Bale netted two minutes later and substitute Jese added a late fourth for a scoreline that somewhat flattered the home side.
Celta Vigo moved into the top six after beating Valencia 2-0 thanks to late goals from John Guidetti and Hugo Mallo.
The home fans turned their anger towards coach Gary Neville, chanting “Gary go now” after a third consecutive league defeat left the club 14th, six points above the relegation zone.
The Galicians capitalised on Athletic Bilbao’s 2-1 defeat at Espanyol earlier on Sunday to move ahead of the Basques, who dropped to seventh.
Javier Eraso’s first half goal put Ernesto Valverde’s men in charge but quick strikes from Pape Diop and substitute Felipe Caicedo in the second half turned the game in Espanyol’s favour.
They moved up to 12th, seven points above the drop zone.
Barcelona’s dynamic attacking trio of Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi were too strong for Arsenal as all three scored in a 3-1 victory on Wednesday that sent the Spanish side into the Champions League quarter-finals 5-1 on aggregate.
Brazil’s Neymar opened the scoring in the first half as the home side dominated the early play, but Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny curled in an excellent finish to spark life into the visitors after the break.
Suarez, however, launched himself into the air to meet a Dani Alves cross and send a superb volley into the top corner to deflate the English side, who have now been knocked out of the tournament in the last 16 for six successive seasons.
The mercurial Messi rounded off the scoring with a trademark chipped finish two minutes from time as the defending champions extended their record-breaking unbeaten run to 38 matches in all competitions.
“We know we need to attack and defend at the same level if we want to win,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique told reporters. The La Liga leaders remained on course for a second successive treble and their coach is not concerned about who they face in the last eight of Europe’s most prestigious club competition.
“The only team I want to keep away from us is Barca and I think we have no chances to meet them,” he joked.
The defeat will increase the pressure on Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, whose side are 11 points adrift of leaders Leicester City in the Premier League and exited the FA Cup last weekend.
“We had our chances, but we couldn’t take them,” Wenger said.
“But we have to say well done to Barcelona. They have two or three players who transfer normal life into art.”
Barcelona served notice of their intent when Arsenal keeper David Ospina was forced into a superb save to deny Messi, but the reprieve was short-lived as the hosts took the lead through Neymar’s side-footed finish after 18 minutes.
Arsenal had lost possession playing out from the back before Suarez angled a perfectly-weighted pass into the path of Neymar to slide the ball past Ospina.
Former Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez fluffed the visitors’ best chance when he headed wide, but Arsenal continued to press and levelled six minutes into the second half when Elneny bent a sweet finish into the top corner from 20 metres.
Just when it looked like Arsenal might spring a surprise, however, Suarez’s acrobatics finished the tie before Messi burst into the box and lifted the ball calmly into the net to cap another superb individual display.
“We knew they were going to go and take the game to us,” Suarez said.
“In the end we proved we are strong here and made home advantage count.”
A federal court in Sao Paulo has blocked Barcelona striker Neymar from using almost $50 million worth of assets — including a yacht, a jet and properties, officials told Reuters on Tuesday.
The move was taken as the 24-year-old Brazilian is accused of tax evasion between 2011 and 2013.
The court froze 188.8 million reais ($46.7 million) in assets last September but Neymar had been free to use those assets until now. Officials also corrected the amount to 192 million reais ($47.5 million).
“Official documents were sent to several entities such as port authorities, offices that register properties, and civil aviation authorities (so that Neymar no longer has use of these assets),” the judge said in a statement sent to Reuters.
An appeal to block the footballer’s future earnings was, however, rejected, officials said.
Among the assets frozen are three companies of which he and his father are the principal owners. Prosecutors accuse Neymar of setting up companies as fronts in order to pay a lower rate of tax.
Neymar is accused of not paying 63.3 million reais ($15.7 million) in taxes between 2011 and 2013. The judge froze three times that amount for security reasons and to cover potential interest and fines, according to a judicial order explaining the seizure.
Neymar’s total assets were given as 244.2 million reais ($60.4 million).
Neymar has denied any wrongdoing.
A Brazilian judge threw out a tax evasion case against Barcelona forward Neymar on Thursday because Brazil’s inland revenue has yet to finish its own deliberations in the case.
The Brazil international, his father and two ex-presidents of the Spanish club, were accused of tax irregularities and providing false documentation in cases a prosecutor said involved contractual frauds surrounding Neymar’s image rights.
But Judge Mateus Castelo Branco Firmino da Silva would not consider the case because the inland revenue had still to rule.
“It is the understanding of the Federal Supreme Court that the accusation is not possible in tax cases before a final decision in the administrative realm,” the judge said.
On Tuesday, a prosecutor in Neymar’s home city of Santos said: “Neymar’s conduct, along with the others accused, caused millions in losses to the public coffers.”
The allegations refer to image rights contracts from 2006 when Neymar was a tenager playing for Santos. Prosecutors allege further fraud occurred during negotiations to take him to Barcelona in 2011. He joined the Catalan giants in 2013.
The prosecutor said he would appeal the decision after Brazil’s Carnival, which begins this weekend and ends on Wednesday.
The Barcelona striker also appeared in front of a Spanish judge on Tuesday to give evidence about alleged irregularities surrounding his transfer.
He and his father were last week ordered to pay nearly 460,000 reais ($113,000) to Brazil’s inland revenue in taxes owed from 2007 and 2008.
Barcelona forward Neymar can be as good as he wants to be and will follow Lionel Messi in defining an era in football, his Barca and Brazil team mate Dani Alves predicted on Monday.
Neymar has reached new heights at Barca this season, his third with the Spanish and European champions, and was named on Monday along with Messi and Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo on the three-player shortlist for the 2015 FIFA Ballon d’Or award.
Neymar, 23, is the top scorer in La Liga this term with 12 goals in 11 appearances, with two more in five Champions League outings, and was particularly impressive during Messi’s recent two-month absence with a knee injury.
The pair form a formidable attacking trident with South American compatriot Luis Suarez and they set a Spanish record of 122 goals in all competitions in 2014-15 as Barca romped to a treble of Champions League, La Liga and King’s Cup titles.
“Ney has the limit he wants,” Alves, 32, who refers to Neymar as his “younger brother”, said in an interview with Reuters Television.
“If he doesn’t want a limit then he won’t have one because his characteristics and his qualities are favourable for this,” added the fullback.
“In the end he’s one of those players, like Leo, like Luis, who are singled out as unique, who will mark a decade, or an era, in football, like other big names.
“For this reason, what he wants to achieve he will achieve. And if it’s with us, so much the better, because if he’s in our team that’s a sign that we will achieve things and compete a lot and we will have the opportunity to achieve things.”
Alves was speaking to Reuters as part of a Barca media day looking ahead to the Club World Cup in Japan starting in two weeks.
Barca won the competition, which features the six continental champions, under former coach Pep Guardiola in 2009 and 2011 having lost out to Brazilian side Internacional in 2006 in their first appearance.
“I think we’re doing things well,” Alves told Reuters. “It’s been a perfect year and we welcome the chance to add to the history of this club and make it even greater.”