One-man Plan B: Neymar could fill Barcelona’s biggest need

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Happily, I was wrong about this future — speculation we were in for another summer of interminable Neymar gossip. Instead, the various entities with ownership stakes in Brazil’s biggest star decided to sell. Instead of trying to improve their negotiating stance by pursing an extension to Neymar’s Santos deal (which expired next year), the club and other investors paved the player’s route to Barcelona, even though the 21-year-old was willing to stay.

It made for an emotional scene today as Santos opened their Campeonato campaign against Flamengo at the country’s new national stadium in Brasilia. Before what was expected to be his final Santos appearance, Neymar was clearly emotional, a state the perhaps played into the team’s performance. The match produced the first 0-0 of the Brazilian weekend, Neymar allowed to see out the full 90 at a venue named after another Brazilian legend: the right-winger Garrincha.

It’s on the opposite flank where Neymar may make his mark for Barcelona, a team that desperately needs a second threat to offset their increased dependence on Lionel Messi. It’s not just that Barça’s attack has become increasingly centered on their Argentine dynamo, a process with extremes that became evident when Messi picked up an injury late in the Catalans’ Champions League campaign. Tito Vilanova team has lost all their Plan Bs. Whereas previous editions in this Barcelona run had Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry, and a year of Zlatan Ibrahimovic — players who were scoring goals independent of Messi’s play — now David Villa, Alexis Sanchez, and Pedro Rodríguez are entirely dependent on Messi. Either through what Messi creates or the attention defense pay to him, Barcelona’s other goal scoring is a function of Plan A.

Of course, we’re speaking in relative terms. Barcelona has scored 111 goals in 37 La Liga games, so their attack isn’t exactly weak. By any reasonable, broad measure, it’s still prolific, but in big games, they’ve become easier to predict, their lack of variety allowing teams like Milan and Paris Saint-Germain to compete. Demurring into a deep, compact shape that declined to engage until the edge of Barcelona’s attacking third, Milan defeated Barça at home in Champions League’s Round of 16. PSG arguably outplayed Barcelona in the quarterfinals, while Bayern Munich were eventually able to counter the Catalans into embarrassment. Along the way it became apparent: Teams with the talent to compete at Europe’s highest level were having little trouble competing with Barcelona.

Barça needs a solution, particularly with defenses playing so deep, so tight that the influences of Xavi Hernández and Andres Iniesta are also being offset. In lieu of another experiment with a target striker, an exercise that’s unlikely in the wake of Ibrahimovic, Barcelona needs a player who can stretch defenses – somebody who can offer more of a threat than the mere width of Daniel Alves and Jordi Alba. Before suffering a broken leg in Yokohama in December 2011, Villa could have been that threat his ability to cut in from wide left and create goals a proven catalyst for the Spanish national team. Villa, however, has yet to regain his full place in the team, having scored only 15 all-competition goals this season.

Neymar has the potential to fill this void. If he lives up to his promise, the Brazilian will stretch opposing defenses, his skill on the ball giving Barça the type of one-on-one threat that can’t trusted to most right backs. Should teams decline to go out and play him, Neymar has the ability to pick his spots coming in or threaten with right-footed crosses from wide.

It’s a threat the team hasn’t had since Henry, whose second year in Barcelona produced 29 goals and 12 assists as a Plan B in Pep Guardiola’s attack. As he faded, Ibrahimovic left, and Messi gravitated toward a central role, Barcelona stopped utilizing this type of wide threat, their persistent winning ways perhaps obscuring the inevitable problem.

It may be a bit much to expect Neymar to replicate the numbers Henry produced in 2008-09, though he certainly has the talent. Still, there’s reason to doubt he can be so prolific, at least in the short-term. The jump to Europe presents unique challenges for every player, especially one leaving his country for the first time. Because of his early rise to stardom, Neymar’s been able to live a self-defining existence in Brazil, something that will change once he lands in Catalunya. Near-30-goal output is too much to ask for the coming season, which is not to say Neymar needs produce that much to be an immediate success.

On the field (or, on the chalkboard), Neymar seems a perfect fit – a player that allows Barcelona to regress to a most-balanced approach. Were they to persist as a vehicle Messi’s used to take on the world, Barcelona would face the same obstacles next season, and be equally troubled traversing them.

With the addition of a true Plan B (and what a Plan B, at that), Barcelona may be able to jumpstart its dynasty. Whether Neymar produces 30 goals or 15, as long as he scares opponents into accounting for him, he will have a huge impact on Barcelona’s success.

They still need to improve their defense, determine how to move forward with their coaching position, and improve their depth. But with the addition of a second legitimate threat, Barcelona may have solved their biggest problem – big time opposition having figured them out.

World Cup 2022 schedule – how to watch, last 16, calendar, match schedule, brackets, dates

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The World Cup 2022 schedule is locked in and this tournament in Qatar has been sensational as the knockout rounds will capture the imagination of the globe.

[ LIVE: Watch World Cup en Espanol en Peacock ]

Japan, Australia and Morocco made the last 16 with so many huge shocks during the tournament, while Germany, Denmark and Belgium all crashed out in the group stage.

From the USMNT and England getting out of their group to Lionel Messi dragging Argentina through and Mexico just missing out on getting out of the group stages and amid upsets galore, there are plenty of intriguing games in the latter stages.

[ MORE: World Cup rosters for all 32 teams ]

We now have the small matter of the Round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals, and final to look forward to. Bring. It. On.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]  

Below is the schedule in full, details on how to watch the games and everything else you need..

[ MORE: World Cup odds ]


World Cup 2022 schedule, start time, dates, how to watch live

  • When: November 20, 2022 to December 18, 2022
  • Knockout round kick-off times: 10am, 2pm (both ET)
  • Location: Qatar
  • TV channels en Español: Telemundo, Universo, Peacock
  • Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)

Follow along with ProSoccerTalk for the latest news, scores, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 World Cup, and be sure to subscribe to NBC Sports on YouTube!


Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H | Full tables


Round of 16 schedule

Match 49 – Saturday, December 3: Netherlands 3-1 USA – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan

Match 50 – Saturday, December 3: Argentina 2-1 Australia – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan

Match 52 – Sunday, December 4: France 3-1 Poland – Al Thumama Stadium, Doha

Match 51 – Sunday, December 4: England 3-0 Senegal – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor

Match 53 – Monday, December 5: Japan vs Croatia (preview) – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah – 10am

Match 54 – Monday, December 5: Brazil vs South Korea (preview) – Stadium 974, Doha – 2pm

Match 55 – Tuesday, December 6: Morocco vs Spain (preview) – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan – 10am

Match 56 – Tuesday, December 6: Portugal vs Switzerland (preview) – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 2pm


Quarterfinal schedule

Match 58 – Friday, December 9: Winners Match 53 vs Winners Match 54 – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan – 10am

Match 57 – Friday, December 9: Netherlands vs Argentina – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 10am

Match 60 – Saturday, December 10: Winners Match 55 vs Winners Match 56 – Al Thumama Stadium, Doha – 10am

Match 59 – Saturday, December 10: Winners Match 51 vs France – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm


Semifinal schedule

Match 61 – Tuesday, December 13: Winners Match 57 vs Winners Match 58 – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 2pm

Match 62 – Wednesday, December 14: Winners Match 59 vs Winners Match 60 – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm


Third-place play-off

Match 63 – Saturday, December 17: Losers Match 61 vs Losers Match 62 – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan – 2pm


Final

Match 64 – Sunday, December 18: Winners Match 61 vs Winners Match 62 – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 10am


Group stage results

Group A

Recap/highlights: Qatar 0-2 Ecuador – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Senegal 0-2 Netherlands  – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor – 5am
Recap/highlights: Qatar 1-3 Senegal – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Netherlands 1-1 Ecuador – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Netherlands 2-0 Qatar – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Ecuador 1-2 Senegal –  Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan

Group B

Recap/highlights: England 6-2 Iran – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: USA 1-1 Wales – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: England 0-0 USA – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Wales 0-2 Iran – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Wales 0-3 England – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Iran 0-1 USA – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor

Group C

Recap/highlights: Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: Mexico 0-0 Poland – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Poland 2-0 Saudi Arabia – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Argentina 2-0 Mexico – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: Poland 0-2 Argentina – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Saudi Arabia 1-2 Mexico – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail

Group D

Recap/highlights: France 4-1 Australia – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Recap/highlights: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: France 2-1 Denmark – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Tunisia 0-1 Australia – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Recap/highlights: Tunisia 1-0 France –  Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Australia 1-0 Denmark – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah

Group E

Recap/highlights: Spain 7-0 Costa Rica – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Germany 1-2 Japan – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Spain 1-1 Germany – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Japan 0-1 Costa Rica – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Japan 2-1 Spain – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Costa Rica 2-4 Germany – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor

Group F

Recap/highlights: Belgium 1-0 Canada – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Morocco 0-0 Croatia – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 5am
Recap/highlights: Belgium 0-2 Morocco – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Croatia 4-1 Canada – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Croatia 0-0 Belgium – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights Canada 1-2 Morocco – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor

Group G

Recap/highlights: Brazil 2-0 Serbia – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: Switzerland 1-0 Cameroon – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Recap/highlights: Brazil 1-0 Switzerland – Stadium 974, Doha – 11am
Recap/highlights: Cameroon 3-3 Serbia – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Recap/highlights: Cameroon 1-0 Brazil – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: Serbia 2-3 Switzerland – Stadium 974, Doha

Group H

Recap/highlights: Portugal 3-2 Ghana – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Uruguay 0-0 South Korea – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Portugal 2-0 Uruguay – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: South Korea 2-3 Ghana – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: South Korea 2-1 Portugal – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Ghana 0-2 Uruguay – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah


Portugal vs Switzerland: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Portugal and Switzerland meet Tuesday with a 2022 World Cup quarterfinal berth on the line in Lusail.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portuguese have a EURO during his tenure with the team but have never won the World Cup. That, of course, can change this month with Bruno Fernandes now the focal point of the attack.

STREAM PORTUGAL vs SWITZERLAND LIVE

Switzerland, meanwhile, will feel it has as good a chance as any to make a run in the tournament having beaten Cameroon and Serbia while staying within a goal of world No. 1 Brazil in a close group stage loss.

Portugal opened the tournament with a slim and thrilling 3-2 win over Ghana, then topping Uruguay 2-0 before further dooming the Uruguayan side by falling 2-1 to South Korea in Al Rayyan

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Portugal vs Switzerland.


How to watch Portugal vs Switzerland live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Tuesday Dec. 6
Stadium: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Portugal’s complete team is something to behold as Ruben Dias, Ruben Neves, and Bruno Fernandes give the side a robust spine that can be topped just as robustly by Cristiano Ronaldo when the great player is at his best in terms of defying the age 37.

The Swiss have seen Breel Embolo as a threat up top but the backs and midfield have so many tough nuts to crack with Granit Xhaka operating atop Manuel Akanji and Fabian Schar.


Portugal quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 9
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 8
How they qualified: Qualified from UEFA via playoffs
Coach: Fernando Santos
Key players: Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruben Neves, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Cancelo

Switzerland quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 15
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 12
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Murat Yakin
Key players: Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, Yann Sommer, Remo Freuler

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Foden, Kane shine as England handles Senegal to set up France meeting

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It’ll be England vs France in the 2022 World Cup quarterfinals as Phil Foden set up two goals in the Three Lions’ 3-0 win over Senegal on Sunday.

Jordan Henderson’s finish of a Jude Bellingham feed eased the nerves after Senegal started brightly, and Foden set up Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka got goals on either side of halftime in the win.

WATCH ENGLAND v SENEGAL FULL MATCH REPLAY

Being without Idrissa Gana Gueye in addition to Sadio Mane made Senegal’s hopes of a upset quite dim, especially once Liverpool mainstay Henderson put England in front.

England vs France will come Saturday in Al Khor.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub


Free-running England too much, as Gana gone = Senegal gone

There are not a lof of footballing nations outside of the very top, top sides that could handle the absence of Sadio Mane, and not many more could operate without Idrissa Gana Gueye.

Mane missed the entire tournament and Gana Gueye was suspended for this game against England. While that didn’t make the contest a fait accompli, it put a lot of extra pressure on Kalidou Koulibaly at the back as well as Senegal’s midfield duo of Nampalys Mendy and Ismaila Ciss.

But would England take advantage of the absences?

The answer is a resounding yes, and was exemplified by the opening goal. Senegal had played well for more than a half-hour of the match and even had the match’s biggest danger point, when Sarr was stopped by Jordan Pickford.

But let’s talk about England’s first goal: You’d be forgiven for wondering if the player arriving in the box to finish off midfielder Jude Bellingham’s cutback feed was Harry Kane but it was a slightly shorter Premier League player in Jordan Henderson.

Gana’s absence as disruptor allowed England to feel just a bit better about pushing forward, and it paid off.

Another note is the new headache in the forefront of Gareth Southgate’s mind as the usually conservative boss has to figure out how to situate two-assist Phil Foden along with Kane and the numerous England attackers who’ve begged for playing time with positive displays.

Nice problem to have.


Stars of the show

Phil Foden

Jude Bellingham

Jordan Henderson

Bukayo Saka

Harry Kane


Jordan Henderson goal video

Harry Kane goal video


How to watch England vs Senegal live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET – Sunday, December 4
Stadium: Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor 
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

When it comes to England they have so many wonderful attacking players that it’s so hard to get them all on the pitch at the same time. It is also tough for Southgate to get the balance of the team right. When England clicks up top they are almost unstoppable and Harry Kane is the chief creator as well as the biggest goal threat. But he’s yet to score in this tournament as Rashford, Saka and Co. have done the damage. Defensively John Stones and Harry Maguire have been excellent too and this will all be about if England are brave enough to come flying out of the traps and back their star forwards to have the win wrapped up by half time. England have no injury issues, although Ben White has flown back to the UK for personal reasons so the Three Lions squad now has 25 members who are all fully fit. That makes preparing to play England a nightmare as they could roll out so many different combinations and formations in midfield and attack. Southgate went with Saka, Foden and Kane up top against Senegal.

Senegal has nothing to lose which is very dangerous in a knockout game. They have great experience in their side with Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy holding them together defensively and at the other end of the pitch Ismaila Sarr has really stepped up in attack in the absence of their superstar Sadio Mane. If Mane hadn’t been ruled out of this tournament due to injury, we would probably be talking about this Senegal side as a potential semifinalist. If England make a mistake or underestimate them, Senegal will make them pay but they will miss Idrissa Gana Gueye in midfield for this game as he’s suspended. There are also a few other injury issues for Senegal to deal with as Cheikhou Kouyate has been missing after he picked up an ankle injury in the opener.


England quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 5
World Cup titles: 1 (1966)
World Cup appearances: 15
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA
Coach: Gareth Southgate
Key players: Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Pickford
At the 2022 World Cup – Won Group B with 7 points (+7 GD)

Senegal quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 18
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 2
How they qualified: Beat Egypt in CAF playoff
Coach: Aliou Cisse
Key players: Idrissa Gana Gueye, Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly
At the 2022 World Cup – Finished 2nd in Group A with 4 points (+1 GD)


Brazil vs South Korea: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Brazil looks to advance past the Round of 16 for the eighth-straight World Cup when it meets South Korea at 2pm ET Monday at Stadium 974 in Doha.

FIFA’s No. 1 ranked side, Brazil’s men are thinking bigger than the quarterfinals as their end game; The five-time World Cup champions want to end their 20-year wait for a sixth World Cup trophy.

STREAM BRAZIL vs SOUTH KOREA LIVE

This tournament is South Korea’s 10th World Cup, though all but two have ended in the group stage. South Korea famously went to the semifinals when it shared hosting duties with Japan, falling to eventual runners-up Germany before Brazil won the final.

Brazil blanked Serbia and Switzerland before a heavily-rotated side fell 1-0 to Cameroon at the group stage conclusion. And good news: Neymar Jr has declared himself fit after suffering a nasty ankle injury in the opener.

Meanwhile, South Korea started slow with a 0-0 draw against Uruguay In Al Rayyan before falling 3-2 to Ghana In the same city, but a thrilling 2-1 fight against Portugal lifted them into the knockout rounds.

The winner of this game meets the winner of Japan vs Croatia.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Brazil vs South Korea.


How to watch Brazil vs South Korea live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Monday Dec. 5
Stadium: Stadium 974, Doha
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Well, first off: Neymar. One of Brazil’s all-time heroes is missing a World Cup from his resume and rightly or wrongly, that’s a marker as to whether the player will be considered one of the best Brazilians to ever do it. When healthy he’s among the five best attackers in the world. But how healthy is he? And how much can Richarlison, Vinicius Jr. and company take pressure off the oft-fouled Neymar?

South Korea will have hope that Heung-min Son’s slow tournament is on the upswing after the Tottenham star played well late in delivering the win over Portugal to seal a group stage place. Look out for 26-year-old Napoli center back Min-jae Kim, whose name is dancing through the Premier League transfer rumor mill with renewed vigor following strong performances in Qatar.


Brazil quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 1
World Cup titles: 5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
World Cup appearances: 22
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (1st place)
Coach: Tite
Key players: Neymar, Thiago Silva, Casemiro, Alisson Becker

South Korea quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 28
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 10
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC
Coach: Paulo Bento
Key players: Heung-min Son, Young-gwon Kim, In-beom Hwang, Woo-yeong Jeong

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