Neymar

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL PREVIEW: Barcelona

A JUVENTUS defense that has only conceded 24 goals this season will not be easy to break down, but a certain three men that have scored 120 between them will feel confident that at least one can find the back of the net on Saturday.

Lionel Messi (43), Luis Suarez (16) and Neymar (22) have scored 81 of Barcelona’s 110 league goals this season. To put that in some sort of context, the entire Juventus squad scored 70 goals this season, Chelsea scored 73 and Bayern Munich scored 80. Juventus (Italy), Chelsea (England) and Bayern (Germany) all won their respective leagues.

Despite the lethal form of “MSN” in front of goal, Barcelona did not finish as the top scorers in La Liga, as Real Madrid netted 118 times, but a reinvented Barca did concede the least amount in Spain (21), and only Bayern let in less in Europe’s top five leagues (18).

Tiki-Taka is not quite Tiki-Toast at Camp Nou, but, under Luis Enrique, Barcelona are certainly more dynamic.

Ivan Rakitic is one of the most notable men who spearheaded this change, with the Croatian play-maker being that bit more aggressive than the tippy-tappy Xavi and Andres Iniesta, with the former being dropped for Rakitic.

Iniesta, arguably the finest midfielder of his generation, has seen his role in the Barcelona fold somewhat decrease in value under the new style, contributing just one goal and five assists in La Liga and the Champions League combined compared to Rakitic’s eight assists and six goals in the two elite competitions. Rakitic also created 42 chances compared to Iniesta’s 32.

Ivan Rakitic: Modern Barcelona personified (Picture via theguardian.com)

Ivan Rakitic: Modern Barcelona personified (Picture via theguardian.com)

In comparison, the strike force has gone the opposite way to the midfield with the hard working Alexis Sanchez (sold to Arsenal for ¬£35 million), and Pedro (benched) being replaced by the aforementioned Suarez and Neymar who are more intent on scoring, scoring…and scoring a bit more, as opposed to winning the ball back and setting up the micro magician Messi.

The Catalan kings are keen to return to the throne of being Europe’s finest once again having not won the Champions League since 2011 where they defeated Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley Stadium.

They have already snatched back their domestic crown after having briefly lost it to Atletico Madrid for a year and Saturday’s final in Berlin will see either Barca or Juve win the treble with Barcelona also winning this season’s Copa del Rey with a 3-1 win over Athletic Club and Juventus overcame Lazio 2-1 in the Coppa Italia.

If Barcelona are to win their first treble since 2009, the rebranded team are going to have to find a way past a very organised Juventus side, but very few have managed to stop Messi, Suarez and Neymar.

 

Brazil 1-1 Chile (Brazil win 3-2 on penalties)

Hosts Brazil booked their place in the Quarter Finals with a win over Chile but had to rely on a penalty shootout.

Gonzalo Jara, recently released by Nottingham Forest, had the unenviable role of having to score the deciding penalty but his spot-kick hit the post and away to send Brazil through.

David Luiz, Marcelo and Neymar all netted from twelve yards for El Selecao while Maurico Panilla, Alexis Sanchez and Charles Aranguiz could not convert for Chile.

Paris Saint-Germain’s latest signing Luiz kneed the Brazilians in front 18 minutes in after Thiago Silva headed on Neymar’s corner for a simple finish for his new teammate.

Sanchez leveled the scores after 32 minutes when Brazil lost the ball cheaply from a throw in in their own half. Sanchez slotted home past Julio Cesar with ease after being given the time and space by the Brazilian back line.

Chile almost spoiled the party in the last minute of extra time but Pinilla could only hit the bar with a fierce drive in the dying seconds.

Brazil thought they had a winner ten minutes into the second half when Hulk shinned in an effort but after consideration from his linesman, Howard Webb ruled that the Zenit man controlled the ball with his arm.

Hulk also should have made it 2-1 to Brazil seven minutes before the end but had his shot brilliantly saved by Claudio Bravo.

The two teams had to settle for penalties though and it was Brazil who would book themselves a spot in the last eight.

 

 

Cameroon 1-4 Brazil: Brilliant Brazil bound for second round

Neymar

Hosts Brazil cemented their spot as group winners with a comfortable 1-4 win over pointless Cameroon. A brace from Neymar along with one each from Fred and Fernandinho set up a round 2 meeting with Chile.

Neymar gave Brazil the lead in Brasilia when he side footed Luiz Gustavo’s cross first time past Charles Intandje who had no chance

The face of the tournament doubled his tally with 35 minutes played when he dribbled past some Cameroon defenders and finished past Intandje with style again, sending him the wrong way with an accurate finish.

Fred sealed the win with a close range header from David Luiz’s cross five minutes into the second half to kill off Cameroon’s hopes of a shock.

Cameroon had infact leveled the scores nine minutes after going behind with Joel Matip tapping home his first goal for the Indomitable Lions, turning home Allan Nyom’s squared pass.

Neymar had chances to get a third for Brazil, no closer when his volley was palmed out and away by former Liverpool Goalkeeper Intandje with 20 minutes played.

He never did get his illusive hat-trick though and was replaced by Willian in the closing stages as a precaution for the latter stages of the competition.

A neat passing move provided the fourth and final goal for Brazil.  After they capitalized on a poor free-kick from Cameroon, Oscar fed Fernandinho who gave it to Fred, to Oscar, and then back to Fernandinho around the edge of the box and the Manchester City play-maker tucked it in first time for 1-4.

Elsewhere in Group A, Mexico defeated Croatia 1-3 with goals from Rafael Marquez, Andres Guardado and Javier Hernandez which sets up a last 16 tie with Group B winners The Netherlands.

Brazil 0-0 Mexico: Hosts held by mighty Mexico

Image

Mexico defied the odds to hold hosts Brazil to a 0-0 draw in Fortaleza, an outstanding performance by the Mexican goalkeeper will live long in the memory.

They even looked most likely to score for the majority. Hector Herrera came closest in the first half when his pile driver was tipped over the bar brilliantly by Julio Cesar, the referee failed to award a corner though.

There was an even better save a minute later however when Guillermo Ochoa produced the save of the tournament so far, clawing away a Neymar header when it looked certain to ripple the net. Some Brazilians likening it to Gordan Banks’ iconic save against Pele’s in 1970 on Twitter.

Ochoa was also equal to a David Luiz effort from close range just before half time.

The out of contract Ajaccio stopper superbly kept out a Tiago Silva header five minutes before the end with a reaction save after Neymar’s flighted free-kick, Ochoa could well have attracted the attention of a number of clubs following tonight’s display.

Miguel Herrera’s plucky outfit really took the game to Brazil in the second period, Jose Juan Vazquez and Oribe Peralta both fired over ten minutes after the break.

Andres Guardado curled an effort over from a tight angle in added time before Marco Fabian volleyed low after setting himself up but Cesar got down to punch it clear.

Brazil’s nearest miss came when Neymar curled a free-kick wide on 63 minutes.

Neymar had dyed his hair peroxide blonde before the match and may be thinking of changing it back following a below par performance.

Controversy reared its ugly head for Brazil again like it did in their opener against Croatia. First Silva was perhaps fortunate to avoid a red after taking out a Mexican forward and then Marcelo went down in the box with an embarrassing dive. Unlike Fred in Sao Paulo though, a penalty was not awarded.