The Brazilian ace may be on the verge of leaving the Spanish side, but if his final showing was against Juventus he’ll leave on a good note
EAST RUTHERFORD — If this was Neymar’s swan song, he hit on just about every note.
In possibly his last appearance with Barcelona, Neymar left little doubt about his standing among the world’s top players, and why he’s reportedly worth a record €222 million transfer fee, if he is on the way out.
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Amid rumors the 25-year-old forward is headed to French side Paris Saint-Germain, Neymar scored twice in 10 minutes against Juventus, electrifying a crowd packed with Barcelona supporters at MeLife Stadium.
Barcelona defeated Juventus 2-1 in each team’s opening match of the 2017 International Champions Cup, a result that is trivial compared to the broader picture.
Barcelona’s first preseason game could very well be the Brazilian superstar’s last with the team. Rumors have swirled that Neymar is heading to PSG, with Saturday’s news revealing a massive deal offered by the French club.
But if this was indeed his last game with Barcelona, Neymar put an exclamation point on his four-year career at Camp Nou. On his second goal, he danced around five defenders inside the 18-yard box, the 82,104 in attendance hanging on his every touch, before he finally found enough space to open his hips and shoot back against the grain past Gigi Buffon.
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About 10 minutes earlier, he combined with Paco Alcacer on a give-and-go around 20 yards from goal, leaving the Brazilian star with the ball on his foot in a shooting position before scoring his first of the match.
He was a constant thorn in Juventus’ side, showing off his combination off speed and skill down the left flank, drawing fouls and frustrating the Italian club’s defense all in one, before being subbed out of halftime.
And in the same breath, there were moments of near-brilliance, or just-misses that were emblematic of the past year for Barcelona, disappointing by the club’s own lofty standards, but a callback to what was pegged as one of the world’s top sides with the likes of Neymar and Messi up front.
On three separate occasions in the first half, both Messi and Neymar stood over the ball for a free kick just outside of the 18-yard box. None of those chances resulted in a shot on goal.
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In the first minute, Neymar nearly picked out Messi sprinting toward the far post, a curling pass that stretched too far for the Argentine ace before sliding past the touchline.
In the 42nd minute, a cheeky ball lifted over top from Messi hit Neymar in stride, but he was unable to beat Buffon one-on-one.
The juxtaposition of the two — Neymar’s goals and the two star players just missing — could be their lasting image. This past year, Barcelona won both the Copa del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup, but failed to advance past the quarter-final round of the Champions League, and finished runners-up in La Liga to Real Madrid.
A trophy shy of a treble would suffice for most clubs, but of course, in Barcelona, the expectations are higher.
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Which isn’t to say his tenure will be marked by Barcelona’s failures: Twice in the past four years the La Liga championship came back to Camp Nou, Barcelona won a Champions League in 2015, and three times captured the Copa del Rey.
But this season, losing out to Real Madrid in La Liga and getting eliminated by Juventus in the Champions League — shut out by the Italian club in each leg of that round — was a disappointment.
And now Barcelona could be left asking, “what’s next?” There are still plenty of diamonds in the jewelry box to work with, but if this was Neymar’s last tour of duty, Barcelona will be losing one of their brightest.