Neymar

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Ligue 1: PSG return to comfort zone, thrash Strasbourg

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PARIS (AP) After falling short in the Champions League, Paris Saint-Germain returned to its French league comfort zone and beat Strasbourg 5-2 on Saturday.

Edinson Cavani netted twice, and Julian Draxler, Angel Di Maria, and Neymar also scored to ensure PSG stayed 12 points clear of second-place Monaco at the top.

But not without a fright.

Strasbourg took the lead in the sixth minute and pulled back to 3-2 as PSG continued to show alarming signs of weakness at the back. Strasbourg had a late goal incorrectly ruled out for offside after PSG’s defense was again easily breached, although it was already 5-2 by then.

PSG lost at Real Madrid 3-1 on Wednesday in the first leg of the last 16. The way PSG capitulated by giving away two late goals heaped pressure on coach Unai Emery over his team selection.

“The atmosphere was a bit tense. That’s normal,” Cavani said. “We have to look forward now. We played well today, although at times we could have been better.”

Emery was booed by sections of the home crowd when his name was announced over the loudspeaker before the game. Later, Cavani stopped short of giving Emery his personal backing when asked if the under-fire coach has the full support of the players.

“We’re a team and big teams stick together in the important moments,” Cavani said. “That’s the only way you can win.”

Strasbourg beat PSG at home in December, and stunned the crowd at Parc des Princes by taking the lead when midfielder Jean-Eudes Aholou was left completely unmarked near the penalty spot.

PSG hit back hard and was 3-1 up after 23 minutes thanks to Draxler, Di Maria and Neymar’s 19th in 19 league games.

Stephane Bahoken scored against PSG for the second time this season after a quick counterattack. Strasbourg poured forward but the hope didn’t last for long.

Cavani gave PSG some breathing space with an assured finish in the 72nd, clipping the ball over goalkeeper Alexandre Oukidja, then lobbed him for his league-leading 23rd goal.

“It was important to win after Wednesday’s match. We have to get our fans ready for the games to come against Marseille (next weekend) and Real Madrid,” Emery said. “We have to show we can maintain this level of play against better sides, with all due respect to Strasbourg.”

To celebrate Chinese New Year, PSG players’ names were written in Mandarin on the back of their shirts and a Chinese dragon paraded around the pitch. PSG says it has 1.3 million Chinese followers.

In order to better serve the soccer market in Asia, the league match between Nice and PSG on March 18 has been moved forward to 1 p.m. local time (1200 GMT).


Marseille players will also have their names in Mandarin for Sunday’s home game against Bordeaux at Stade Velodrome. Marseille recently launched an account on Chinese social media site Weibo.

Striker Giovanni Sio’s second-half equalizer gave Montpellier the point it needed to take fifth place after drawing with Guingamp 1-1.

Two goals from newly signed striker Diafra Sakho gave Rennes a 2-2 draw at Caen, which missed two penalties.

Saint-Etienne won at Angers 1-0, Troyes beat last-place Metz 1-0, and Amiens drew with Toulouse 0-0 in another relegation scrap.

In Sunday’s other games, fourth-place Lyon goes to Lille, and Nice hosts Nantes.

Selecao in the making: Tite names 15 players for Brazil’s World Cup squad

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It’s not uncommon for managers to drop hints about their squads heading into a major competition, but Brazil’s boss did something a bit different during a recent interview.

[ MORE: Man City’s Mix Diskerud goes back on loan to Goteborg ]

Selecao manager Tite named 15 players that will be heading to this summer’s World Cup in Russia, despite a near four-month gap between now and the start of the world’s most prestigious tournament.

The team is headlined by Brazil regulars such as Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar and Philippe Coutinho of Barcelona.

With a wide buffer to establish the rest of his squad, Tite leaves room for eight more selections before Brazil heads off to Europe in June.

Below is the full list of squad members included on Brazil’s initial roster.

Goalkeepers (1): Alisson (Roma)

Defenders (5): Dani Alves (PSG), Marquinhos (PSG), Thiago Silva (PSG), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Miranda (Inter Milan)

Midfielders (4): Fernandinho (Manchester City), Paulinho (Barcelona), Casemiro (Real Madrid), Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan)

Forwards (5): Neymar (PSG), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Willian (Chelsea), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona)

Ronaldo brace leads Real comeback vs. PSG

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Cristiano Ronaldo scored in each half to lead Real Madrid to a 3-1 first leg win over visiting Paris Saint-Germain in their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.

Marco Asensio had two assists in five minutes, on Ronaldo’s second and a Marcelo marker.

Adrien Rabiot scored for PSG to give Les Parisiens an early lead and an away goal, but Toni Kroos was dropped in the box to give Ronaldo his chance to level the score.

The second leg is March 6 at the Parc des Princes.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Zidane had Real Madrid pressing the ball from the opening kickoff, leading to a series of chances and high-volume challenges in the first five minutes.

Cristiano Ronaldo whistled a shot wide of goal, Marquinhos made a timely intervention on Marcelo, and Toni Kroos had a penalty shout denied before PSG made its first attempt on goal through Yuri Berchiche.

Rabiot finished when fine work from Kylian Mbappe from the right bounded off a defender and into his path. His curled shot from 12 yards missed Nacho’s head and Keylor Navas’ left glove to make it 1-0.

Neymar then cued up Edinson Cavani in traffic, but his shot was deflected out for a corner.

Alphonse Areola made a tremendous save on Karim Benzema, but Kroos won a penalty in driving past Giovani Lo Celso. Ronaldo hammered his effort past Areola to make it 1-1 just before halftime.

Navas stopped Mbappe within minutes of the restart, with PSG aiming for a win with multiple away goals.

Both teams carried play at times in the second half, with goal mouth scrambles standing out in each box. Sergio Ramos made a pivotal block with his arm in the 74th minute. Could’ve been a penalty, not given.

Both Mbappe and Dani Alves couldn’t slide onto a Berchiche cross through the box in the 77th.

The breakthrough came courtesy of¬†Marco Asensio’s cross, which was spilled by Areola onto the path of Ronaldo. The Portuguese megastar reacted to prod the ball in with his knee.

Navas stopped Mbappe to concede a corner in the 89th minute as PSG pushed for a second away goal, but it was Real who’d score again through a near identical Asensio cross from the left for Marcelo.

Time for Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo to swap?

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Okay, so we’ve seen a mega swap deal in the Premier League in January with Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and who says it can’t happen between two megastars?

[ MORE: Tottenham come of age ] 

Ahead of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg clash on Wednesday, reports continue to link Neymar with replacing Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid and the theme within all of them is clear: Real Madrid are incredibly confident of signing the Brazilian star this summer.

Could the duo swap places this summer? Think about it.

Not the craziest idea, but of course with Neymar 26 and Ronaldo 33 years old, you’d expect Ronaldo plus cash to be heading to PSG if Neymar, their $265 million prized signing from Barcelona last summer, is ever allowed to leave.

The crux of the reports regarding Neymar moving to Real point to his belief that he won’t win the Ballon d’Or if he remains at PSG.¬†Neymar has been a star for PSG since his huge move from Barca, scoring 7 ¬†goals in 27 games and adding 14 assists in his first season in the French capital.

He is the main man, just as he wanted to be at Barcelona but found himself stuck behind Lionel Messi and even Luis Suarez. If he moved to Real in the summer, would he be the main man at the Santiago Bernabeu?

Ronaldo, who has been the main man for Real for the past decade after leading them to three European titles, has been linked with a move away from the Spanish capital multiple times over the past 12 months due to unhappiness. This season he’s scored 23 goals in 28 games in all competitions which is a little low by his own lofty standards and Real’s poor form has coincided with Ronaldo’s dip.

Rumblings continue that a summer of huge upheaval is planned at Real as Zinedine Zidane’s side falter in La Liga, despite winning the league last season and two-straight UCL titles. You get the sense this is the end of an era with not only Ronaldo discussed in potential outgoings but also Gareth Bale, Keylor Navas, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric.

Are all of those deals lined up so Neymar can arrive and be the new star of the show?

Ronaldo heading back to Manchester United for the final years of his career has always seemed like the smart bet but given the success of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at PSG at a similar stage of his career, perhaps Les Parisiens’ would be willing to do this deal considering the commercial income which would also arrive?

There’s also the problem regarding UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules as PSG have yet to officially sign Kylian Mbappe from Monaco for $220 million, but they will do in the summer when his season-long loan ends. Can they afford to have the world-record fee for Neymar and then the blockbuster deal for Neymar with regards to FFP? It’s clear that will cause problems.

It is also clear that Neymar isn’t fussed with rocking the boat and doing what he feels is best for his own personal career. Just 12 months after his huge move to PSG from Barca, we will see him make an even bigger move back to Spain to join Real Madrid?

Wednesday’s showdown in the Santiago Bernabeu will be about much more than Real Madrid vs. PSG. It will be a glimpse of the current (Ronaldo) and perhaps the future (Neymar) of the most successful team in European history.

Neymar nets winner as league leader PSG wins 1-0 at Toulouse

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PARIS (AP) Neymar showed there was no hangover from his lavish birthday party by scoring the winner as leader Paris Saint-Germain won at Toulouse 1-0 in the French league on Saturday.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Citizens crack 70 points, Tottenham wins NLD ]

Neymar settled a scrappy match with a typical moment of skill midway through the second half. He drifted into the left side of the penalty area and cut past two players before his deflected shot somewhat fortuitously wrong-footed goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

The win moved PSG 13 points clear of second-place Marseille, which drew at Saint-Etienne 2-2 on Friday.

But this was a largely uninspired PSG performance aside from Neymar. He has 19 goals in 18 league games since joining from Barcelona for a world record 222 million euros ($260 million).

Neymar had plenty of spare cash to throw a mega-party last Sunday to celebrate turning 26. He privatized a Parisian club and invited 300 guests – including his teammates, his coach, his club president – and 50 keen partygoers from Brazil.

As a result, coach Unai Emery gave Neymar a rest on a chilly Tuesday when PSG played at Sochaux; and it proved a judicious move as the silky Neymar looked in fine form. He almost added a second goal late on with a brilliant curling shot from 25 meters which bounced off the crossbar.

PSG needs Neymar like this. The club has a massive game at Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday, in the first leg of the last 16. PSG has a big point to prove after being humiliated 6-1 by Barcelona in the second leg at the same stage last year – with Neymar PSG’s chief tormentor that night.

“We’re ready. It will be a very important game for our season and we don’t have the right not to be ready,” PSG midfielder Marco Verratti said. “We’re content because things are going well in the league. ”

Later Saturday, Monaco looked to move above Marseille and into second place with a win at Angers. But Monaco is without injured top scorer Radamel Falcao.