Neymar’s first three Champions League goals see Barcelona to 6-1 win, top of Group H

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If the purchase of Neymar was supposed to alleviate Barcelona’s dependence on Lionel Messi, the 21-year-old phenom finally put that plan into effect on Wednesday. Scoring three times and setting up a fourth, Neymar found his way onto a UEFA Champions League scoresheet for the first time in six games, giving the Messi-less Blaugrana a 6-1 win over Celtic at the Nou Camp.

In the process, the three-time champions confirmed their place atop Group H, their 4-1-1 group stage record leaving them four points clear of second place Milan. That standing ensures they’ll draw against the competition’s group stage runners-up on Dec. 16, with Champions League’s Round of 16 set to resume on Feb. 18.

The layoff gives Barcelona fans time to savor a breakout performance from the club’s $78.6 million  purchase, a player who’d settled into the shadows during the first months of his European career. Entering the match, the former Santos star had five goals in 20 all competition matches, and while he’d also contributed nine assists in that time, the Brazilian’s goal scoring had been undermined by a transition period. After scoring 56 goals in his last year-and-half with Santos, Neymar was having to play second fiddle.

But with Messi still sidelined with a thigh problem, Neymar was center stage on Wednesday, a spotlight in which he thrived. After Gerard Piqué had opened the scoring in the seventh minute (putting home the rebound of an Alexis Sánchez shot), Neymar played a part in Barcelona’s next four goals.

In the 39th minute, Pedro Rodríguez doubled Barcelona’s lead after a Neymar step-over froze Celtic defender Efe Ambrose, with the Brazilian subsequently finding his teammate at the edge of the six-yard box. In the 44th, a scoop over the defense from Sanchez found right back Martín Montoya, with goalkeeper Fraser Forster’s save deflecting to Neymar for a finish into an empty goal.

Up 3-0 at halftime, Barcelona would double their lead in the second, the first salvo giving Neymar his second of the match. In the 48th minute. off a one-two with Xavi Hernández, Neymar was able to get a shot away from just inside the 18-yard box, his try beating Forster into the left of Celtic’s goal.  Ten minutes later, Neymar had his hat trick, nutmegging Ambrose before putting a close range shot off Adam Mathews. making it 5-0, Barcelona.

Neymar would tease a fourth with close calls in the 65th and 74th minute, but by the time he was taken off in the 81st, it was Cristian Tello who had finished Barça’s scoring. The returning attacker, having come on for Alexis Sánchez in the 63rd minute, scored from the middle of the area in the 72nd minute. An 88th minute set piece headed home by Georgios Samaras proved the only blemish in Barcelona’s 6-1 rout.

It was a refreshingly dominant performance for a Barcelona team that’d lost two of its last three games, their only victory coming against a lower division club in Spain’s Copa del Rey. But with a quick, ruthless efficiency the team’s missed since the start of the season, Gerardo Martino’s team gave their most convincing performance since Messi’s injury.

In the process, they showed why the team need not be so wary of their star’s absence. Whereas a spring injury to Messi derailed Barça’s 2012-13 Champions League campaign, this year they have insurance. If this is the Neymar was can expect going forward — one that’s shaken free of his transition phase to embrace his potential — Barcelona may ready to be more than Messi and friends.


Barcelona: Gerard Piqué 7, Pedro Rodríguez 39, Neymar 44, 48, Cristian Tello 72

Celtic: Georgios Samaras 88


Barcelona: Pinto; Martín Montoya, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Adriano; Sergi Roberto, Sergio Busquets (Alex Song 73), Xavi Hernández; Alexis Sánchez (Cristian Tello 63), Neymar (Jean Marie Dongou 81), Pedro Rodríguez

Unused substitutes: Andrés Iniesta, Jodri Alba, Carles Puyol, Oier

Celtic: Fraser Forster; Mikael Lustig, Efe Ambrose, Virgil van Dijk, Adam Matthews (Anthony Stokes 82); Dirk Boerrigter, Nir Biton (Kris Commons 69), Sean Brown, Joe Ledley, Georgios Samaras; Teemu Pukki (Charlie Mulgrew 45)

Unused substitutes: Lukasz Zaluska, Bahrudin Atajic, Amido Baldé, Darnell Fisher

Statement from suspended UEFA president Michel Platini

Michel Platini, UEFA & FIFA
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Statement from suspended UEFA President Michel Platini:

Early this afternoon, I was informed of the FIFA ethics committee’s decision to impose on me a provisional 90-day suspension with immediate effect. That decision, which I will of course contest in the appropriate manner at the appropriate time, had already been the subject of a deliberate leak, and I gave my opinion on that earlier in the day.

I reject all of the allegations that have been made against me, which are based on mere semblances and are astonishingly vague. Indeed, the wording of those allegations merely states that a breach of the FIFA Code of Ethics “seems to have been committed” and that a decision on the substance of the matter cannot be taken immediately.

Despite the farcical nature of these events, I refuse to believe that this is a political decision taken in haste in order to taint a lifelong devotee of the game or crush my candidacy for the FIFA presidency.

I want everyone to know my state of mind: more than a sense of injustice or a desire for revenge, I am driven by a profound feeling of staunch defiance. I am more determined than ever to defend myself before the relevant judicial bodies.

I want to reiterate in the strongest possible terms that I will devote myself to ensuring that my good faith prevails. I have received numerous messages of support today from UEFA’s member associations and the other confederations encouraging me to continue my work serving football’s interests. Nothing will make me give up on that commitment.

EURO 2016: Ireland shock Germany, Northern Ireland qualify

Shane Long, Ireland
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A recap of Thursday’s action in 2016 European Championship qualifying:

Ireland 1-0 Germany

Southampton striker Shane Long scored the goal that knocked off the defending world champions and pushed Ireland one step closer to next summer’s European Championship in France. Long, who entered the game in the 65th minute, latched onto Darren Randolph‘s ball over the top in the 70th minute, took one touch to settle and fired for the far post, beating Manuel Neuer for the game’s only goal.

With one game still to play, Ireland (18 points) sit third in Group D, level on points with Sunday’s opponent Poland. While the winner of Sunday’s clash could leapfrog Germany (19), they will more likely finish second in the group and qualify automatically. A draw on Sunday could still see both sides qualify automatically through the ranking of third-place finishers (the top third-place finishers from group play earns an automatic berth at EURO 2016).

Northern Ireland 3-1 Greece

Norther Ireland (20 points) topped Greece (3), 3-1 on Thursday to officially book their place at EURO 2016. Steven Davis scored twice and Josh Magennis added the third for Michael O’Neill’s side.

With one game still to play (Sunday, at Finland), Northern Ireland can finish no lower than second. A draw against Finland, or any points dropped by Romania (17) would see Northern Ireland finish top of Group F.

Portugal 1-0 Denmark

Joao Moutinho scored the only goal of the game to secure Portugal’s (18 points from just seven games) place at next summer’s tournament. The defeat sees Denmark remain second in Group I, a point ahead of third-place Albania, who lost to Serbia on Thursday. Having played all eight of their group games, Denmark can go no higher than 12 points, meaning they would fail to qualify if Albania beat Armenia on Sunday. A draw between Albania and Armenia would see Denmark qualify based on tiebreakers.

Elsewhere in EURO 2016 qualifying action

Group D

Scotland 2-2 Poland
Georgia 4-0 Gibraltar

Group F

Hungary 2-1 Faroe Islands
Romania 1-1 Finland

Group I

Albania 0-2 Serbia