Fri, Aug 23, 2013 - Page 18 News List

Neymar saves Barca after Messi injured

PHENOMENAL FIRST:The Brazilian forward’s debut Barca goal salvaged a 1-1 draw against an Atletico led by David Villa that gave the Catalans few chances

AFP, MADRID

Barcelona defenders Jordi Alba, left, and Gerard Pique, right, try to steal the ball from Atletico Madrid forward David Villa in their first-leg Spanish Supercopa match at the Estadio Vicente Calderon in Madrid, Spain, on Wednesday.

Photo: AFP

Neymar scored his first goal for Barcelona as the Catalans were held 1-1 by Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Supercopa, but there was another injury worry for Lionel Messi as he was forced off at halftime.

David Villa had given the hosts the perfect start when he netted against his old side in spectacular fashion after just 12 minutes.

Barca then struggled to find their rhythm against a dogged Atleti side and were dealt a huge blow when Messi failed to reappear for the second half due to a hamstring injury.

However, in his absence, Neymar was the man to rescue the Spanish champions as he came off the bench to head home Dani Alves’ cross 25 minutes from time.

“He had a knock and then a muscle problem, so we will do the required examinations to see how serious it is,” Barca manager Gerardo Martino said of Messi’s injury afterward. “It didn’t make sense to keep him on the field if he couldn’t move comfortably.”

Having thrashed Levante UD 7-0 in Martino’s first competitive match in charge on Sunday, Barca started confidently and had the first clear opening of the game when Pedro’s scuffed effort was palmed away by Thibaut Courtois in the 11th minute.

However, within 60 seconds Atletico were ahead thanks to a fantastic piece of counterattacking play as Villa fed Arda Turan on the left, then burst into the box to meet the Turk’s cross flush on the volley to power the ball past Victor Valdes.

Moments later, the Spain international nearly punished his former teammates again as he and Diego Costa combined perfectly, but this time Gerard Pique recovered just in time to block Villa’s effort.

The game then settled down with Barca patiently probing without ever opening up a well-organized Atletico side before the break.

Martino was quick to praise Atletico’s energetic first-half performance, which gave the visitors very few opportunities.

“It was very difficult for us to find space to receive the ball. We couldn’t find space between the lines, they were very compact and it was difficult to break through,” he said.

“To fix this we need to have more movement and precision. It is not easy, but we were better in the second half,” the Barca boss added.

Despite losing Messi at halftime, Barca improved after the break as they went close twice through Alexis Sanchez and Messi’s replacement, Cesc Fabregas.

Neymar was next to be introduced by Martino and it did not take the Brazilian long to net his first Barca goal as he charged in at the back post to nod home Dani Alves’ hanging cross.

Valdes had to be alert to deny Villa restoring Atletico’s lead moments later before Xavi fired a free-kick just over for Barca as the game became increasingly stretched.

Courtois was forced to come to Atletico’s rescue once more to deny Sanchez with a brave block from point-blank range 16 minutes from time.

However, there was to be no winner on the night, meaning the tie is still very much alive heading to the Camp Nou for the second leg on Wednesday next week.

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