Goal in friendly could help put Neymar back on track
Barcelona's Neymar gestures during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
TALES AZZONI, AP Sports Writer
MADRID (AP) — A meaningless goal is still a goal, especially for someone who really needs a boost.
Neymar had been enduring his worst scoring drought since arriving in Barcelona, but he got one in his team's 5-3 friendly win over Al Ahli in Qatar on Tuesday.
That could be just the spur he needs.
In Sunday's Spanish league game against Espanyol, Neymar will be trying to score his first goal in an official match since he signed a three-year contract extension with Barcelona almost two months ago.
Neymar's last goal for the Catalan club came in the 4-0 win over Manchester City in the group stage of the Champions League on Oct. 19, two days before the new contract was signed to keep the Brazil striker in Barcelona until June 2021.
Neymar failed to find the net in the eight matches since then, the longest scoreless streak in his four seasons in Spain.
In his debut season in 2013-14, Neymar went six consecutive games without scoring a goal two separate occasions. He never went more than four games without a goal the following season, and in 2015-16 he didn't score in five games in a row late in the season.
Although Neymar hasn't been playing poorly, his missed chances have attracted attention. None more than the one in the 68th minute of the "clasico" against Real Madrid at Camp Nou a few weeks ago, when he had an open shot from close range to give Barcelona a 2-0 lead but sent his strike over the crossbar. Madrid scored an equalizer in the 90th.
Neymar's missed opportunity might have cost Barcelona the game, but it also kept him from showing his support for Brazilian club Chapecoense, whose players and delegation members died in a plane crash in Colombia.
"If I had scored I would have shown a Chapecoense jersey," Neymar said. "It's what I could have done at that moment to show my support to the relative of those who died."
It's been a sub-par season for Neymar compared to a year ago, when he scored 14 goals in his first 17 games. He ended with 31 goals and made the short list for the best player of the year award, finishing behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the voting.
The 24-year-old Neymar has only six goals after 17 games this season. He did not make FIFA's shortlist this time, and finished fifth in the Ballon d'Or award announced Monday.
Neymar started the season with Barcelona later than usual because he played for Brazil at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, leading the hosts to their first soccer gold medal.
He didn't play the last two games for Barcelona because of suspensions — against Osasuna in the Spanish league and Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Champions League. The coinciding yellow-card suspensions led to some criticism in Spanish media as they gave Neymar extended time off, although he had to spend time undergoing physiotherapy for a minor muscle ailment.
Another Barcelona striker who could benefit from the friendly in Qatar is Paco Alcacer, who finally scored his first goal since being signed by the Catalan club this season. He hadn't scored in 11 games and many fans had already been criticizing him.
Barcelona is six points behind Spanish league leader Madrid, which is off this weekend because it's in Japan for the Club World Cup.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni