The Herald (South Africa)

Pretender to meet master

Showdown between Neymar and Ronaldo


WITH Cristiano Ronaldo on one side and Neymar on the other, today’s heavyweigh­t Champions League showdown between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain sees two of the game’s biggest global superstars collide.

Ronaldo, the current world player of the year, has rediscover­ed something like his best form just at the right time for Real.

PSG, meanwhile, are placing their hopes in Neymar, the world’s most expensive player and a Ballon d’Or winner of the future, as they chase the European glory that has thus far eluded them.

The Brazilian left Barcelona for Paris to step out of Lionel Messi’s shadow. But, exactly seven years Ronaldo’s junior, he is already being talked about as a possible successor to the Portuguese.

So far Neymar’s route to the Ballon d’Or has been blocked by the Messi-Ronaldo duopoly – they have won the prize five times each in the last 10 years.

If Neymar inspires PSG to victory in this tie, and then on to glory in the final in May, he will stand a good chance of ending their domination.

But while Ronaldo turned 33 last week on Monday, he is far from finished.

He scored just four times in Real’s first 18 La Liga games, his slow start to the season following a summer overshadow­ed by accusation­s of tax evasion.

But a weekend hat-trick in a 5-2 win over Real Sociedad took him to seven goals in his last four league outings.

Suddenly, “CR7” now has 23 goals in all competitio­ns this season.

“I am always looking to perform at the highest level and sometimes things don’t work out the way we would like,” Ronaldo told He may be beginning his decline, but there is life in him yet. And Ronaldo also lives for the Champions League, a competitio­n he has won four times before.

The Portuguese scored nine times in this season’s group stage and his next goal will be his 100th in the competitio­n for Real.

Neymar’s first six months in France have at times been overshadow­ed by reports of an uneasy relationsh­ip with Edinson Cavani, the other idol at PSG and the club’s all-time record goal-scorer.

Doubts are still raised about how much the French scene motivates him, too.

Last week, he sat out a French Cup tie at Sochaux.

But Neymar can almost do and say what he wants, as long as his performanc­es on the field satisfy PSG’s Qatari owners after they signed him for a world-record amount.

And he is delivering on the pitch, scoring a goal a game in a Paris shirt.

“We have lots of great players, but our leader on the pitch is Neymar,” PSG coach Unai Emery said.

In France, persistent speculatio­n about a potential Real bid to sign Neymar, possibly as early as this year, has been seen as an attempt to unsettle PSG ahead of this tie.

“Would Neymar fit at Real Madrid? He would fit, for sure,” Real’s Marcelo, a Brazil teammate of Neymar, said.

“I think Neymar will one day play for Real Madrid.”

PSG signed Neymar after he mastermind­ed Barcelona’s incredible 6-1 win in the Champions League last season.

It is not too big a stretch to imagine Real doing something similar should Neymar oversee their downfall.

He will surely not be at PSG forever, and Madrid president Florentino Perez cannot wait too much longer to sign another global superstar, and successor to Ronaldo.

 ?? Picture: AFP PHOTO/ PASCAL PAVANI ?? GAME ON: Paris Saint-Germain are pinning their hopes on Brazilian forward Neymar in today’s Champions League showdown with Real Madrid
Picture: AFP PHOTO/ PASCAL PAVANI GAME ON: Paris Saint-Germain are pinning their hopes on Brazilian forward Neymar in today’s Champions League showdown with Real Madrid

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