By DAN KARELL
It only seemed right with Lionel Messi out of the game that Barcelona new-boy Neymar would step up when his team needed him.
Trailing 1-0 in the 66th minute, Neymar rose high to a ball delivered by teammate Dani Alves and headed home, canceling out former Barcelona forward David Villa’s first-half volley goal. The Neymar goal was the first for the Brazilian in an official match for the Catalan club, and helped give his side a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid on Wednesday night at the Vicente Calderon Stadium.
Still working his way back to fitness from taking the entire month of July off to rest, Neymar entered in the 59th minute for Pedro and certainly made his mark on the left wing.
Messi meanwhile was diagnosed with a left thigh contusion, and will be evaluated more on Thursday. Barcelona play Malaga on Saturday and then Atletico Madrid again on Wednesday, making it probable that Messi is saved for the match in six days time at the Camp Nou.
Here are some more stories to get your Thursday started:
ARSENAL CHASE REAL MADRID PAIR
With injuries and departures decimating the squad, Arsenal is left with likely less than 20 first-team regulars available for the next match, away to Fulham on Saturday.
Manager Arsene Wenger has still nearly 12 days remaining before the transfer window closes, and with the pursuit of Liverpool’s Luis Suarez over, the Frenchman has turned his sights on Spain. According to multiple reports in England, Arsenal are preparing bids for Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema and winger Angel Di Maria, hoping to improve the squad with quality and in numbers.
The deal for Benzema alone could cost a reported £40 million ($62.3 million), as reports in Spain have also confirmed that Arsenal have approached Real Madrid on the availability of the duo. Wenger has long been keen on the Frenchman Benzema, while Di Maria’s performances for Real Madrid and Argentina have likely caught the experienced manager’s eye.
It’s unlikely that Real Madrid sell Benzema however, as Carlo Ancelotti would be left without a classic No. 9 striker, instead being forced to start Cristiano Ronaldo or youngster Alvaro Morata up top.
WEDNESDAY’S CHAMPIONS LEAGUE ROUNDUP
Amidst all the negativity in the run-up to Arsenal’s match at Fenerbahce, manager Arsene Wenger must have slept well on Wednesday night, knowing his team provided a capable performance.
The Gunners showed their quality all over the park, dominating the Turkish side, 3-0, in Istanbul, giving Arsenal a huge advantage before next Wednesday’s second-leg match in London. Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey, and Olivier Giroud all scored second-half goals for the English side, the final goal coming from the spot as Arsenal held their heads high.
In Germany meanwhile, Schalke 04 settled for a 1-1 draw with PAOK at Veltins Arena.
Schalke’s midfielder Jefferson Farfan gave the home side a great start in the two-legged tie, scoring in the 32nd minute, with forward Adam Szalai providing the assist. But midway through the second half, former Chelsea youngster Miroslav Stoch leveled the scoreline. In addition to the drama on the pitch, police ended up having to intervene in the stands as ultras on both sides nearly came to blows.
Other results in the Champions League on Wednesday included Basel defeating Ludogorets, 4-2, Austria Wien topping Dinamo Zagreb, 2-0, and Steaua Bucharest drawing Legia Warszawa, 1-1.
El Salvador’s Football Federation has provisionally suspended 22 players including Rodolfo Zelaya for match-fixing allegations. (REPORT)
Paris Saint-Germain defender Thiago Silva has kept his word, officially signing a one-year contract extension through 2018 with the French club. (REPORT)
Colombian striker Duvan Zapata has completed an €8 million move to Napoli. (REPORT)
Barcelona have acquired Manchester City’s Spanish youngster Dennis Suarez for €1.5 million. He’ll spend this season with Barcelona B. (REPORT)
Sevilla have offered young midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia a new, improved contract to ward off transfer interest from AS Monaco and Arsenal. (REPORT)
What do you think of this news? Do you see Neymar starting for Barca soon? Do you believe Arsenal can sign Benzema and/or Di Maria? Do you believe that El Salvador could have fixed matches in the Gold Cup?
Share your thoughts below.