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19 May 2024, Edition - 3232, Sunday

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Sports

Even as Neymar and Cavani awkwardly made up, PSG showed just how deadly they can be

Covai Post Network

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The 3-0 win against Bayern Munich was a study in facial expressions and body language as the two strikers put the hysteria aside.

Paris: Goals mitigate hypochondria in football. Neymar drifted out wide, glided, then slalomed, broke infield and picked out his compatriot Dani Alves, who in acres of space, scored. Cue instant delirium at the glowing Parc des Princes, which reveled in so much Brazilian harmony and luxuriated in the early lead.

It was pulsating. Neymar ran the show, dropping deep and demanding the ball. He enjoyed his freedom and the space Bayern Munich offered him. Here was the messiah, the mercurial footballer, lighting up his new club with star ethos and injecting it, through a thinnish green-and-yellow syringe, with a powerful potion of European Cup euphoria.

Bayern Munich were strangely insipid in the 0-3 loss, a mechanical and feeble imitation of the serial German champions, who for so long were a gold standard among Europe’s elite. Still in the first half, the Bavarians outplayed their hosts as a unit, whose tactic was to usurp the pressure and counter.

That ploy worked wonderfully well. After the half-hour mark Kylian Mbappe surged forward, toyed with two Bayern defenders and Edison Cavani finished with a screamer. The Uruguayan sprinted away in celebration. And Neymar? He waited for the provider. Team Cavani hugged; team Neymar, with Mbappe, hugged: latent South American tribalism with a blue and red overcoat near the Bois de Bolougne.

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The scene, incredulous and awkward, dragged on, and then, just as the world was about to implode, just as the South American rivals were doomed to eternal enmity, in a self-declared vendetta, Neymar walked over to the Cavani camp. And so, with a perfunctory hug, Neymar and Cavani made up.

These 90 minutes were a study in facial expressions, body language, and superficial interaction, the sequel to a hysterical and neurotic ten day in which Paris Saint-Germain’s blissful summer of mega-transfers and projected Greek dreams collapsed: Neymar and Cavani didn’t get along anymore. PSG were anemic.

Did Neymar abuse his powers?
Much of the aftermath of the Neymar-Cavani set piece saga was in earnest apocryphal: the dressing room bust-up, the Brazilian’s letter to Paris Saint-Germain’s president, his unfollowing of Edison Cavani on Instagram (that one is easy to prove), the $1 million pay-off to the Uruguayan and the overwrought dissection of the South American squabble. After all, a money and egomania infused pantomime provoked the high drama.

This was a bust-up that one perhaps had expected at Barcelona with ‘MSN’, not with the docile Cavani in Paris. Giants of the game can quarrel and when they do it isn’t pretty, but this had been an argument in public with the fans and media in tow to render a guilty verdict. It was football en déshabillé, without the requisite human understanding, reduced to a game of hounds, keen on protecting their little fiefdom, at the ready to hunt down any intruder. A gentleman’s agreement? There was neither elegance nor dignity in what Neymar and Cavani proffered.

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And so, PSG’s honeymoon period was abruptly halted this season. September turned confected and fiendish, with Neymar imposingly central to a narrative the Qatari hierarchy didn’t envisage about their new poster boy. Did Neymar abuse his powers?

Perhaps the undercurrent of Neymar’s immature and fatuous behavior is off-putting. At PSG, he represents revenue. He is a money tree and a mission statement. He is also a gloriously gifted player, who is seen as a savior to resuscitate a club from which the shiny veneer was beginning to fade. At Paris Saint-Germain, Neymar has a regal prerogative: he can do as he pleases, but going from ‘Neymarmania’ to ‘Neymarmaniac’ is a small step. That propensity of a faux diva has always been there – ephemeral and marginal, but always materialising in one or the other form at various stages in his career. Against Lyon, the Brazilian’s distaste of Cavani was for all to see. It spilled over, and the Uruguayan reciprocated the dislike.

Dominating Bayern Munich
On Wednesday, the French giants needed a statement against Munich: progress as a sign of rejuvenation and renewed ambition, all informed by the crushing sense that the Champions League must be won. PSG delivered. Neymar was the gravitational point and he enforced the existing Parisian power matrix wherein he will always topple his strike partner. Yet, much of all the effrontery and protracted melodrama was of secondary importance on a scintillating night in Paris. PSG redrew the balance of power in Europe. They are no longer unwanted nouveau riche, knocking on the door of Europe’s Bullingdon club and peering in from the outside. The Parisians backed up economic might with sumptuous football.

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It wasn’t a repeat of their 4-0 annihilation of FC Barcelona last season, but still this counted as a sh

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