Love Him Or Hate Him, Neymar Was At His Rascally Best To Lift PSG Past Dortmund

Neymar spent most of the first nine minutes of a crucial Champions League second leg against Borussia Dortmund on the floor. In a way, it was the best evidence of how much the match meant to him.

Neymar may or may not stay with PSG next season. In the meantime, it’s clear he is doing everything in his power to win the Champions League for his wealthy Qatari benefactors. 

The polarizing Brazilian was peak Neymar on Wednesday, doing everything that has made him beloved and hated in equal measure to help PSG defeat Borussia Dortmund 2-0 to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals 3-2 on aggregate on Wednesday in an eerily empty Parc des Princes.

From taunting celebrations to getting opponents sent off, Neymar was at the center of everything that went right for PSG on Wednesday.   

It was clear from the opening moments that Neymar was willing to do whatever it took to keep PSG in the Champions League. Twice in the first eight minutes he went to ground with minimal contact (at best) looking for a free kick and possible booking. Since Neymar was excoriated for flopping during the 2018 World Cup — in his defense, he embellished more than he flopped — the Brazilian has toned down his diving. It returned on Wednesday in such a crucial match to PSG’s season, proof of how much this game meant to the Brazilian. 

But Neymar did more than just embellish. He unselfishly played his role as a left-sided midfielder.

Not only did Neymar score the opening goal and start the attack that led to the second, he played more defense in this match than I’ve seen from him throughout his entire tenure with the French club. In the 56th minute, he dispossessed English wonderboy Jadon Sancho like a ruthless father dispossesses his 3-year-old child and showed a defensive desire rarely seen from a superstar forward of his stature. 

And, of course, he played offense — and perhaps offended some critics with his celebrating. 

Neymar scored the first goal of the match in the 28th minute. Left unmarked in the box on a corner, he headed in the goal that put PSG ahead on away goals. 

Immediately after scoring, Neymar ran to the bench to celebrate with Kylian Mbappé, who started the game on the bench as he recovered from illness (not Covid-19). 

After reveling with his teammates, Neymar then mocked Borussia Dortmund stud striker Erling Håland, imitating the young Dane’s celebration from when he scored in the first leg

Like we said, peak Neymar. Love him or hate him, he puts on a show. 

Just before halftime, Neymar helped give PSG a little breathing room.

After a turnover in the middle of the park, Neymar started the attack that led to the second goal, which was eventually turned in by Juan Bernat.

Neymar’s antics weren’t done though. 

Late in the match, with PSG looking to run out the clock, the Brazilian got Emre Can sent off.

Can fouled Neymar to stop an advance, prompting the No. 10 to get up in Can’s face, perhaps headbutting him if you’re a BVB fan. Can was having none of it and shoved Neymar down, prompting a little scrum that resulted in a yellow for Neymar and Angel Di Maria (who by this point had been subbed off) and a red for Can. 

While Neymar was vitally important — he brings something to a match just a few others in the world can replicate — Presnel Kimpembe was even better for PSG.

The 24-year-old German center back was just about flawless in shutting down Dortmund’s vaunted attack on Wednesday night. Playing alongside Marquinhos, Kimpembe was colossal in defense for the French champions, covering huge swathes of pitch to deny BVB at every turn. 

Not even young American hero Gio Reyna could provide a spark coming on for Axel Witsel in the 71st minute.

Thanks to Kimpembe and Neymar, PSG managed to overturn its disappointing first leg with a perfect second leg, despite having no fans in the stadium because of Coronavirus precautions. (Can you imagine how Liverpool fans would’ve reacted if they weren’t allowed to play the second leg against Atletico Madrid in front of fans?) The atmosphere was a bit eerie, but unlike Valencia on Tuesday, PSG overcame the lack of fans to advance to the quarterfinals. 

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