Neymar comes to the party as PSG superstars keep Qatar interested in its own World Cup

By Sports Desk December 09, 2022

Qatar 2022 is a World Cup like no other, and the host nation performed like no other.

Theirs was the worst group-stage record of any home side at a World Cup, becoming the first to lose all three matches and conceding a landmark seven goals. Only South Africa, in 2010, had previously failed to make it out of the first round.

Controversially awarded the tournament months after Spain's Barcelona-inspired success at South Africa 2010, Qatar had plenty of time to prepare and soon put its faith in Catalan coach Felix Sanchez.

He worked first with the nation's youth teams before taking the top job five years out from the World Cup.

Although Sanchez led Qatar to Asian Cup success in 2019, he never considered a World Cup run a serious possibility – or so he said after a third straight defeat last month.

"Our country has 6,000 federation football licences, so this was a likely outcome," he explained. "We never set a goal to reach the round of 16 or quarter-finals."

While Sanchez believed this to be a "very realistic" approach, Qatar undoubtedly underwhelmed.

However, fortunately for those with a vested interest in the country boosting its reputation at the finals, its presence on the pitch extends beyond Sanchez's national team.

Lionel Messi and Neymar, like Sanchez, were poached by Qatar from Barcelona, and they are having a far greater impact.

Of course, neither are counted among the naturalised Qatari citizens who turned out in the colours of the gulf nation, but the South American superstars, along with Kylian Mbappe, represent Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain every time they step out on the field.

If disappointed by Qatar's woeful displays before his eyes, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir, could at least therefore be heartened by the influence of his club side.

PSG's takeover by Qatar Sports Investments followed hot on the heels of FIFA's vote for the 2022 hosting rights, yet it scarcely could have dreamed of the status its players would enjoy when the tournament finally came around.

Admittedly, things could have been very different had this World Cup taken place in the Northern Hemisphere's summer, as is the norm.

At the end of the 2021-22 season, Messi was coming off the worst club campaign of his career, Neymar had again spent long stretches out injured, and Mbappe appeared set to leave PSG for Real Madrid.

Six months on, all three were in form, all three were fit, and all three were still at PSG.

In Europe's top five leagues, Erling Haaland (21) alone has more goal involvements in 2022-23 than Neymar (20). Mbappe (10) leads the same metric in the Champions League. Both in Europe's top five leagues and in the Champions League, Messi sets the benchmark for assists (10 and four).

For Messi and Mbappe, that level of performance has continued in Qatar. They have carried Argentina and France respectively into the quarter-finals, with Messi scoring three and assisting one of La Albiceleste's seven goals while Mbappe has netted five and created two of the world champions' nine.

Meanwhile, Neymar was forced to watch as his club colleagues seized control of this competition, injured after a brutal Brazil opener in which he was fouled nine times by Serbia players and hobbled off with a severely swollen ankle.

But now he has come to the party – and it is always a party where Brazil are concerned.

Neymar scored one goal and assisted another in a dazzling first half against South Korea that set up a 4-1 last-16 victory. He is the first Brazil player since at least 1966 to both score and assist at three different World Cups.

The first of those Neymar World Cup goals came back in 2014 against next opponents Croatia, who have not looked capable of stopping a Selecao side in full flow, scraping past Japan only after a penalty shoot-out.

As in Sao Paulo at Brazil's home World Cup, the stands at Education City Stadium will be decked in yellow for Friday's quarter-final, although many of those present will be supporting Neymar himself as much as his team.

Travelling fans from outside the Middle East are in relatively short supply in Qatar, but there are no shortage of Neymar, Messi or Mbappe shirts at Brazil, Argentina or France matches.

It speaks to the success of the PSG project that this foothold in the world game has been established not by Qatar's investment in its national team or by its hosting of the greatest tournament of all.

While there is focus in Europe on QSI's failure to deliver Champions League glory, its thirst for star-power has been rewarded with a genuine interest in the last eight of a World Cup, Qatar's own World Cup.

And unlike in club competitions, where cohesion is key and PSG cannot blow the best teams away, superstars can single-handedly decide the day at this level.

Brazil – and QSI – have one of those; there could yet be cause for celebration for Sheikh Tamim and Qatar if Neymar again performs like the world's most expensive player over the next 10 days.

Related items

  • The Numbers Game: Georgia looking to cause an upset on Ronaldo's big day The Numbers Game: Georgia looking to cause an upset on Ronaldo's big day

    Georgia know that knockout football is still within their reach as they prepare for their toughest test so far at Euro 2024 against Portugal.

    Roberto Martinez's side secured top spot in Group F with a game to spare after following up a 2-1 win against Czechia with a commanding 3-0 victory over Turkiye.

    Meanwhile, Georgia missed the chance to claim a maiden victory at a major tournament as they drew 1-1 with Czechia, but they did set themselves up with a chance of getting out of the group.

    Here, we use Opta data to preview Wednesday's clash.

    What's expected?

    After their strong start to Euro 2024, Portugal are the favourites to make it three wins from three games, with the Opta supercomputer giving them a 75.8% chance of getting the job done.

    While Georgia's spirited performances have earned them the plaudits, they are predicted just a 10.4% likelihood of an upset, and a 13.9% chance of taking a point.

    This will be just the second-ever meeting between the nations, with Portugal coming out on top with a 2-0 friendly win in May 2008.

    The Selecao look set to repeat that result, after putting a recent European Championships hoodoo behind them. Having won both of their group-stage games so far, Portugal have now won more than they had across the 2016 and 2020 editions combined (W1 D4 L1).

    However, only once before have Portugal won all three of their group games in the competition (2000).

    As for Georgia, they are chasing what would be a historic first major tournament win, having drawn and lost their opening two matches. Only Greece have got their first such victory against Portugal, beating them en route to lifting the trophy at Euro 2004.

    Georgia have proven tough to beat in the last year - since losing three in a row between June and September 2023, they have only lost two of their last nine games (W4 D3).

    Georgia aiming for a big finish

    Making their major tournament bow at Euro 2024, Georgia have caught the eye with their high-intensity approach to games, pushing both Turkiye and Czechia all the way in their first two fixtures.

    Georges Mikautadze etched his name into Georgia's history books after scoring their first goal at the Euros, before becoming the sixth player to net both of his nation's first two goals at the tournament, and the first since Andriy Shevchenko in 2012 for Ukraine.

    After a free-flowing attacking performance in their 3-1 defeat to Turkiye, which saw Georgia have 14 shots and hit the woodwork twice, they failed to recapture that same spark against Czechia.

    They did earn their first point, though, agonisingly missing out on that first victory as Saba Lobjanidze squandered a golden chance with the last kick of the game.

    Across the first two matchdays of Euro 2024, Georgia faced more shots (49), more shots on target (20) and had a higher expected goals against (xGA) figure (6.1) than any other side.

    Then again, Giorgi Mamardashvili made more saves (16) – 11 of which came against Czechia – and had a higher expected goals on target (xGoT) prevented figure (+3.05) than any other goalkeeper in the first two matchdays, conceding just four goals (excluding own goals) despite facing an xGoT of 7.05.

    It will be a much sterner test for the Valencia goalkeeper against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva, but if he can maintain that level, he will give Georgia a chance.

    Ronaldo set to make more Euros history

    Playing at a record sixth Euros at 39 years old, Ronaldo had seen his place in the squad debated in the build-up to the tournament.

    He has started both matches in the competition so far though, and should he retain his place against Georgia, he will become the first European player in history to make 50 major tournament appearances (28 of those will have come at the Euros, while he has played 22 times at the World Cup).

    Questions continued to circulate after a frustrating outing for Ronaldo in their 2-1 victory against Czechia on MD1, as he failed to score from five shots worth 0.73 xG, including missing one big chance, as defined by Opta.

    However, he silenced some of those with another slice of history in their dominant win over Turkiye on Saturday, teeing up Fernandes to get his seventh assist at the European Championships - the most on record of any player in the competition's history.

    Despite being the tournament's all-time top scorer, Ronaldo is yet to hit the net so far, though the Selecao are the second-highest scorers at Euro 2024 with five goals. 

    Portugal have benefitted from an own goal in both of their games – only Spain in the 2020 edition have benefitted more at a single Euros (three), while no team has ever done so in three consecutive games at the finals before.

    Martinez will not be too worried about that though, after two commanding performances, as they look to stay perfect heading into the last 16.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Georgia – Georges Mikautadze

    Mikautadze, as things stand, is the joint-top scorer at Euro 2024, with two goals.

    With the chance to continue their run into the last 16, another goal from him could be the key to setting Georgia on their way.

    If he does score on Wednesday, he would be just the third player in history to net each of his side's first three goals in the competition, after Gerd Muller (Germany) and Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria). Not bad company to be keeping.

    Portugal – Bruno Fernandes

    The pre-match headlines are likely to be firmly focused on Ronaldo.

    But on the pitch, it could be Fernandes who sets the tone for Portugal, having been directly involved in 28 goals in his last 23 appearances for the national side in all competitions, scoring 15 and assisting 13.

    His strike against Turkiye was his first goal at the European Championships (in his sixth appearance), the second major tournament match he has scored in for Portugal, after his brace against Uruguay at the 2022 World Cup.

  • Switzerland draw felt like a victory, says Neuer after record Euro appearance Switzerland draw felt like a victory, says Neuer after record Euro appearance

    Manuel Neuer said Germany's draw with Switzerland felt like a win, going on to praise the impact made by Julian Nagelsmann's substitutions in Frankfurt on Sunday. 

    In a battle between Group A's unbeaten sides, it was Murat Yakin's team who took the lead through Dan Ndoye's first international goal in the first half.

    Germany had seen Robert Andrich's earlier effort ruled out by VAR after Jamal Musiala was adjudged to have committed a foul in the build-up. 

    However, substitutes David Ruam and Niclas Fullkrug combined to rescue a point for Die Mannschaft, ensuring they topped the group and remained unbeaten heading into the knockout stages. 

    "You should never write off a team, especially ours, especially with the substitutions we were able to make," said Neuer. 

    "The players who came on were a breath of fresh air and the result feels a bit like a victory."

    Neuer, who made his 18th appearance for Germany at the Euros, overtook Gianluigi Buffon (17) to become the goalkeeper with the most appearances in the tournament’s history but was unable to celebrate with a clean sheet. 

    During that time, the 38-year-old has made 32 saves across his appearances in the tournament, an average of 1.7 per game.

    When compared to Buffon, the Italian made more saves (60) from fewer outings, averaging 3.5 saves per game, as well as keeping more clean sheets (eight) compared to Neuer's six.

    The Bayern Munich goalkeeper is playing in his eighth major tournament for Germany and knows his side must improve in the last-16 if they are to add to their three European Championship titles.

    "We weren't quite as good over the 90 minutes (as the first two games) and I think a draw was a fair result. We can be satisfied with the point."

    Germany will face the runner-up of Group C in Dortmund on Saturday, with all four sides potential opponents for Nagelsmann's team. 

  • Chile v Argentina: Messi ready to build on important win against competitive La Roja Chile v Argentina: Messi ready to build on important win against competitive La Roja

    Lionel Messi expects a difficult test against Chile as Argentina look to maintain their unbeaten start at the 2024 Copa America. 

    Argentina play their penultimate Group A match at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford on Wednesday against La Roja, having beaten Canada on matchday 1. 

    The Albiceleste impressed in their opener against the Canucks, registering 19 shots on goal, surpassing the combined total of 18 shots taken by Chile and Peru in the other Group A meeting.

    Messi, who broke the Copa America appearance record during that match, expressed the importance of their victory in the opening game but knows his side are in for a competitive encounter with Ricardo Gareca's side. 

    “Yeah, we've always known how tough the opening game is. The most important thing is to get off to a winning start," Messi said. 

    “It's not happened previously under [Lionel] Scaloni, so that calms things down because you suffer a lot when you start off losing.

    “But we always play the same way. We're in a difficult group, and now we have to face a very good and competitive team.

    “Ricardo Gareca's arrival has given them something else as well.

    “So yeah, we're happy to have started with a win, but we're now going to rest and prepare for Chile.

    “We know that we have to be a team and achieve our goals in the right way.

    “We know that the only path to do so is in our own way. So we will continue with the same humility and desire to win.”

    Meanwhile, Chile will be hopeful of improving their recent record against Argentina, having failed to beat their opponents since the Copa America final in June 2016, though they needed penalties to get the victory on that occasion.

    La Roja kickstarted their Copa America campaign with a goalless draw against Peru at the AT&T Stadium in Texas, managing to register just one shot on target from the 11 they attempted - the joint-fewest the Blanquirroja have faced in the competition since the debut of goalkeeper Pedro Gallese in the competition (2015).

    Gareca's side have failed to score in their last three games in the Copa America, a run of 378 minutes without a goal.

    However, the 66-year-old believes their lack of threat in front of goal is not an issue ahead of their showdown with the Albiceleste. 

    "We were not able to create many plays and execute them. We were under a lot of pressure, and sometimes we were not accurate in our passes," said Gareca, who became the 10th coach to have managed different teams in consecutive editions of the competition.

    "I'm not concerned. I think this will be useful for us to analyse our game to improve our game.

    "We, of course, hoped to win the match. But I think it's very important that we're able to take a point, and we still have two matches ahead of us."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Chile - Victor Davila

    Victor Davila will be hoping to rediscover the goal-scoring touch he experienced before the Copa America ahead of coming up against the World Cup champions. 

    Having scored three goals and provided one assist in his previous three international appearances heading into their opener against Peru, the CSKA Moscow striker showed glimpses of his attacking threat. 

    The 26-year-old has the joint-most shots (three) and the most touches in the opposition box (five), but failed to register a shot on target, coming off in the 65th minute with an expected goals (xG) total of 0.22. 

    Argentina - Lionel Messi 

    Messi has played in 35 out of 36 matches for Argentina in the Copa America since his debut. The only match he missed was a 2-1 group stage victory against Tuesday's opponents in 2016.

    The Inter Miami star registered an assist for Lautaro Martinez's late goal, reaching 50 direct goal involvements in official competitions for club and country on U.S. soil (30 goals and 20 assists).

    However, Messi will be hoping to add to his 108 international goals at the MetLife Stadium. Should he score, it would take his Copa America tally to 14, level with Chile's Eduardo Vargas and Peru's Paolo Guerrero, three away from equalling Norberto Mendez's record (17). 

     

    MATCH PREDICTION: ARGENTINA WIN 

    The Opta supercomputer is heavily backing Argentina to maintain their unbeaten start at the 2024 Copa America. They won 66.5% of the pre-match simulations, while Chile won just 15.1%. 

    Argentina come up against a familiar foe in Chile at the tournament, with this their 30th meeting at the Copa America. La Roja are the third-most frequent opponent for Lionel Scaloni's side, behind only Brazil (34) and Uruguay (32).

    La Albiceleste remain unbeaten against Chile in these encounters (21 wins, eight draws). However, La Roja clinched their two titles by defeating Argentina in penalty shootouts in the 2015 and 2016 finals.

    Since 2011, Argentina have the fewest losses (two) among teams that have played in more than one Copa America edition. La Albiceleste also boasts the most victories in the tournament during this period (18).

    Chile, however, will be looking to upset the odds. La Roja are looking for their first win in games between the two teams since June 2016. During that time, Argentina have outscored the Chilean side 7-4, something that will need to change to increase their chances of progression. 

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Chile - 15.1%

    Argentina - 66.5%

    Draw - 18.4%

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.