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Goal in friendly could help put Neymar back on track

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MADRID (AP) A meaningless goal is still a goal, especially for someone who really needs a boost.

Neymar had been enduring his worst scoring drought since arriving in Barcelona, but he got one in his team’s 5-3 friendly win over Al Ahli in Qatar on Tuesday.

That could be just the spur he needs.

[ MORE: Zlatan set for rest after Saturday ]

In Sunday’s Spanish league game against Espanyol, Neymar will be trying to score his first goal in an official match since he signed a three-year contract extension with Barcelona almost two months ago.

Neymar’s last goal for the Catalan club came in the 4-0 win over Manchester City in the group stage of the Champions League on Oct. 19, two days before the new contract was signed to keep the Brazil striker in Barcelona until June 2021.

Neymar failed to find the net in the eight matches since then, the longest scoreless streak in his four seasons in Spain.

In his debut season in 2013-14, Neymar went six consecutive games without scoring a goal two separate occasions. He never went more than four games without a goal the following season, and in 2015-16 he didn’t score in five games in a row late in the season.

Although Neymar hasn’t been playing poorly, his missed chances have attracted attention. None more than the one in the 68th minute of the “clasico” against Real Madrid at Camp Nou a few weeks ago, when he had an open shot from close range to give Barcelona a 2-0 lead but sent his strike over the crossbar. Madrid scored an equalizer in the 90th.

Neymar’s missed opportunity might have cost Barcelona the game, but it also kept him from showing his support for Brazilian club Chapecoense, whose players and delegation members died in a plane crash in Colombia.

[ MORE: Gundogan out for season ]

“If I had scored I would have shown a Chapecoense jersey,” Neymar said. “It’s what I could have done at that moment to show my support to the relative of those who died.”

It’s been a sub-par season for Neymar compared to a year ago, when he scored 14 goals in his first 17 games. He ended with 31 goals and made the short list for the best player of the year award, finishing behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the voting.

The 24-year-old Neymar has only six goals after 17 games this season. He did not make FIFA’s shortlist this time, and finished fifth in the Ballon d’Or award announced Monday.

Neymar started the season with Barcelona later than usual because he played for Brazil at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, leading the hosts to their first soccer gold medal.

He didn’t play the last two games for Barcelona because of suspensions – against Osasuna in the Spanish league and Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Champions League. The coinciding yellow-card suspensions led to some criticism in Spanish media as they gave Neymar extended time off, although he had to spend time undergoing physiotherapy for a minor muscle ailment.

Another Barcelona striker who could benefit from the friendly in Qatar is Paco Alcacer, who finally scored his first goal since being signed by the Catalan club this season. He hadn’t scored in 11 games and many fans had already been criticizing him.

Barcelona is six points behind Spanish league leader Madrid, which is off this weekend because it’s in Japan for the Club World Cup.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho scores thunderbolt for Brazil

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Brazil topped Uruguay 4-1 to move on the verge of World Cup qualification, but there was much more to the first half of this match than meets the eye.

Uruguay went ahead 1-0 on a 9th-minute penalty won and scored by Edinson Cavani, and for a moment it seemed like the home side might find its way to pull within a point of Brazil at the top of the CONMEBOL standings. That would not last very long.

[ MORE: Full roundup of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action ]

Just 10 minutes later, a bad giveaway near the midfield stripe saw Neymar casually feed Paulinho a good 50 yards from goal. The former Spurs man took matters into his own hands, charging forward and unleashing a vicious strike that continued to rise until it ripped the chords in the top-right corner.

 

Not only was the goal a sight to behold, it was an important moment in the match. Brazil was back level at 1-1, and Paulinho would be on his way to an eventual hat-trick with a pair in the second half. Neymar scored once as well to complete the 4-1 final scoreline, and the three points for Brazil saw them remain perfect in the World Cup qualifying round as they march seven clear of Uruguay at the top of the standings.

For Paulinho, the hat-trick brings him to four goals in the World Cup qualifying round, adding to his score in the 3-0 win over Argentina. They also mark an important moment for the Chinese Super League, where Paulinho now plays, having moved from Spurs in July of 2015. Some national team coaches have left players on the outside of the squad for moving to leagues such as the Chinese League or Major League Soccer, but Paulinho has clearly been an asset to Brazil despite his club situation. In fact, in China, Paulinho has scored four goals in his four league matches for Guangzhou Evergrande this season plus another in the Asian Champions League, leaving him in top goalscoring form coming into this international break, something which has clearly translated directly to international play.

The 28-year-old had lost his place in the national team squad in 2014, going over two years without a single international appearance, but has been a mainstay in the Brazilian side during this World Cup qualification cycle.

Dele Alli banned three European games for straight red card

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Spurs may be out of the Europa League this season, but should they end up qualifying for the Champions League next season, they will start the campaign short-handed.

Tottenham will be without midfielder Dele Alli for the first half of the group stage after his horrifying tackle on Brecht Dejaegere of KAA Gent in their 2-2 draw which saw Spurs out of the competition on aggregate in the Round of 32.

Alli went to ground on the 39th-minute challenge, and made contact on high up on Dejaegere’s leg with both his studs, finishing with a scissior-whip motion. It was a blatant red card, and now UEFA’s disciplinary committee has handed down the three-match ban. Straight-red cards for violent conduct only carry a minimum penalty of one match in UEFA tournament play, but the disciplinary committee clearly thought a longer punishment was necessary, with the ability to sentence anyone up to five matches.

The straight red was the first of Alli’s professional career. Alli apologized to Dejaejere after the match, according to the Gent midfielder. He’s since scored in four straight matches, and when asked on Sunday if that moment was still in his mind, he said, “I’m never going to say sorry for wanting to win or trying as hard as I can but things happen and you have to learn from them.”

Spurs currently sit in second place in the Premier League table with 59 points and look to be in a strong position for Champions League qualification, with a seven-point cushion on fifth-placed Manchester United.

Lippi leads China over SKorea 1-0 in World Cup qualifier

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Marcello Lippi earned his biggest victory since taking over as coach of China’s national soccer team, leading his squad to a 1-0 victory over South Korea on Thursday in a World Cup qualifier.

[ MORE: Shorthanded USMNT hosts Honduras as WCQ resumes ]

The coach, who led his native Italy to the World Cup title in 2006, was hired by China in October.

Yu Dabao scored the lone goal at Helong Stadium in Changsha with a header in the 34th minute, giving China only its second victory over South Korea in 32 matches.

China spent much of the second half defending with the visitors piling on the pressure. Ki Seung-yeung and Ji Dong-won both went close for South Korea but could not find a way past China goalkeeper Zeng Cheng.

South Korea has 10 points from six matches in Group A and is still on course to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. China, which last qualified for the World Cup in 2002, has five points.

Only the top two teams from the six-nation group qualify automatically. The third-place team will head to the playoffs.

CONMEBOL wrap: Brazil routs Uruguay, Messi guides Argentina past Chile

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A roundup of Thursday’s action from around CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying…

[ MORE: USMNT looks to build momentum against Honduras in WCQ ]

Paulinho‘s hat-trick helped bring Brazil back from an early deficit as the Selecao topped Uruguay, 4-1. Edinson Cavani put the hosts ahead after nine minutes from the penalty spot, but it was Paulinho that answered 10 minutes later for his first of the night. Neymar also tallied for the Brazilians, who continue to lead CONMEBOL qualifying with 30 points.

Lionel Messi scored in the first half to help lift Argentina over Chile, 1-0. The Barcelona attacker scored after 16 minutes when Angel di Maria was taken down inside the Chilean area by José Fuenzalida. Chile was held to just one shot on target throughout, and the loss leaves the reigning Copa America winners on the outside looking in at the top five.

James Rodriguez rescued Colombia on Thursday as the Real Madrid winger capitalized off of his penalty-kick rebound to give Los Cafeteros a 1-0 win over Bolivia. Goalkeeper Carlos Lampe did his best to preserve a draw for the visitors, recording six saves on the afternoon, however, it wasn’t enough to tame Colombia.

Meanwhile, Paraguay knocked off Ecuador, 2-1, behind goals from Bruno Valdez and Junior Alonso. The visitors pulled a goal back in the 70th minute when Felipe Caicedo converted from the penalty spot, but it wasn’t enough for Ecuador.

Peru battled back with two second-half goals to preserve a 2-2 draw against Venezuela on the road. The hosts got out to a 2-0 advantage before halftime when Mikel Villanueva and Romulu Otero scored for Venezuela, however, the Peruvians struck back in the second stanza to knick a point. Andre Carrillo and Paolo Guerrero scored in the 46th and 64th minutes, respectively, for Peru.


Thursday’s results

Colombia 1-0 Bolivia
Paraguay 2-1 Ecuador
Uruguay 1-4 Brazil
Argentina 1-0 Chile
Venezuela 2-2 Peru


Updated CONMEBOL table

  1. Brazil — 9-3-1 — 30 pts.
  2. Uruguay — 7-2-4 — 23 pts.
  3. Argentina — 6-4-3 — 22 pts.
  4. Colombia — 6-3-4 — 21 pts.
  5. Ecuador — 6-2-4 — 20 pts.
  6. Chile — 6-2-5 — 20 pts.
  7. Paraguay — 5-3-5 — 18 pts.
  8. Peru — 4-3-6 — 15 pts.
  9. Bolivia — 2-1-9 — 7 pts.
  10. Venezuela — 1-3-9 — 6 pts.