A career-defining performance for Barcelona in the PSG miracle in the Camp Nou could see Neymar becoming the next winner of the Ballon d’Or.
Neymar had always been the man to step up during tough moments for Brazil’s national team and Santos FC, but the forward frequently received criticism from the demanding Spanish press for his failure to be just as decisive for FC Barcelona. However, his doubters might just be eating their words at last following the Brazilian’s phenomenal performance against Paris Saint Germain, in the Champions League, at the Camp Nou.
Following the 4-0 hammering in Paris in the first leg, it seemed that qualification was almost impossible for Barcelona. As a matter of fact, it still seemed highly unlikely until the 87th minute of the return leg, at the Camp Nou – until a certain Brazilian who just turned 25 years old, decided to pull off one of the best performances that Steven Gerrard claimed he had ever seen. That’s what the former Liverpool captain revealed on air, on British TV, right after the match.
When Edinson Cavani scored that precious away goal for the visitors, Barcelona players were traumatized. A goal was followed by two clear-cut chances from the Uruguayan himself, and Angel Di Maria – and they were both missed. PSG had not created as much danger during the whole game.
However, one man still believed, and it was the Brazilian.
Barcelona needed three goals with three minutes of normal time life – that’s as many as they had scored over the two legs combined. Yet, Neymar achieved the impossible and ensured qualification with an amazing free kick, a penalty, and an assist to Sergi Roberto in the final moments before the referee blew his whistle.
The Brazil international described it as the best performance of his professional career. And that is totally understandable, when he managed to achieve what Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez could not. PSG was able to keep them quiet for the majority of the two matches, yet Neymar still found a way to make the difference. Perhaps the proof that his teammates had lost faith, is the fact that he was the one who took the free-kick.
It has probably never happened before, in a game with such importance. One would think that if the score was still close, Messi would have taken the free-kick. But that’s that, and the former Santista buried the ball into the back of the net – just like he did in the Olympic games final against Germany in Rio 2016.
His goal seemed like a consolation until moments later, Barcelona won a penalty. As soon as the referee points to the spot, Neymar runs and grabs the ball from Trapp, then looks towards Messi and indicates to him that “this one is mine”. The Argentinian did not stand in the way, because even Messi knew that at that moment, the momentum was on Neymar’s side.
While his technical ability is already recognized, Neymar is mentally very strong, never hides, always demands the ball and always delivers in big games, including finals – both at club and national team level – which is perhaps something that he might surpass Messi at.
The way Neymar faked his shot before setting-up Sergi Roberto with the long-range assist, for the goal which secured qualification, tells you all about the 25-year old’s vision, ability to handle pressure, and most importantly decision-making. Of all the possible options he could have made during that moment, from trying his luck long range, to dribbling his way through defenders or passing the ball wide, he had the intelligence to make the best possible one.
As a result, the Paulista set a new record of most assists in Champions League history, by increasing his tally to eight. It is crazy to think that he did it, while it is still the round-of-16.
Following his incredible display which inspired Barcelona’s historical comeback, Neymar is starting to win recognition from several football pundits and reputable journalists. Many are even already tipping him as a legit candidate for the “Ballon d’Or”.
Is this the game that turns around Neymar’s Barcelona career, taking him from the status of an assistant to the best player in the world – as some Brazilian journalists have described – to the status Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s legit heir?
With the two stars of world football aging, time is definitely on the Brazilian’s side. If Neymar continues pulling out such historical displays, the Barca man’s chances of being the best will certainly increase.