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29 November 2023

Brazil's Neymar shines, sick Messi fails as Argentina struggle


Neymar scored a hat-trick as World Cup hosts Brazil routed South Africa 5-0 Wednesday while bitter rivals Argentina laboured to a 0-0 draw in Romania with Lionel Messi struggling with illness.

On a bumper night of friendly internationals, just 99 days out from the start of the World Cup, Brazil were too hot for an outclassed South Africa at Soweto's Soccer City, the venue for the 2010 final.

Chelsea's Oscar opened the scoring on 10 minutes, Barcelona ace Neymar struck once in the first half and twice in the second, and Manchester City's Fernandinho marked his first start with a goal as well.

It was the final warm-up for the 2014 World Cup title favourites before the May announcement of the 23-man squad.

South Africa, who stunned world and European champions Spain 1-0 at the same stadium last November but have not qualified for the World Cup in Brazil, were overawed and outclassed.

"It was not an easy game. The scoreline does not tell the story. South Africa played well - they moved the ball well," said Brazil coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari.

"The difference was that Brazil have very special players. We are happy with what we saw, but there are one or two things we need to work on, and that will be done at training sessions. The players worked hard for the team and not themselves."

South Africa gave a first cap to goalkeeper Ronwen Williams, 22, in the absence of injured captain Itumeleng Khune with centre-back Thabo Nthethe taking over the armband.

Brazil also introduced new faces as Scolari gave first starts to Bayern Munich defender Rafinha and Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho.

It did not take the South Americans long to establish control before a crowd that grew to 51,000 despite an early kick-off and heavy mid-day rain.

A Brazilian goal was inevitable and it arrived on 10 minutes as Oscar outpaced Nthethe to a Rafinha pass and lobbed the ball over Williams.

Tortoise-slow Nthethe suffered against the slick visitors and his defensive partner Bongani Khumalo was an early injury casualty, giving way to Siyanda Xulu.

The persistent pressure told again on 41 minutes with Neymar the scorer, hammering the ball past Williams from close range.

Brazil made a planned half-time strip change from yellow and blue to all blue and 25 seconds into the second half they were three goals ahead.

Neymar had time and space he would not normally be accustomed to and calmly lobbed the ball over Williams.

South Africa introduced Ayanda Patosi just past the hour and he almost scored with his first touch, forcing veteran Julio Cesar into an acrobatic block.

Fernandinho netted 11 minutes from time, latching on to a loose ball and giving Williams no chance, and Neymar completed his hat-trick in stoppage time from point-blank range.

In Bucharest, Argentina could only draw 0-0 against Romania in a friendly which saw Neymar's Barcelona teamate Lionel Messi play the whole of the match despite being physically sick seven minutes in.

Argentinian coach Alex Sabella started with pretty much his first choice side with Messi in the playmaking role while Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain were the strikeforce and other regulars such as Angel di Maria, Javier Mascherano and Pablo Zabaleta also featured.

But the two-time world champions toiled to create any serious openings.

In Barcelona, Colombia drew 1-1 with Tunisia as the South Americans' lack of a cutting edge in the absence of knee injury victim Radamel Falcao was exposed.

With Los Cafeteros' World Cup opener against Greece just over three months away, coach Jose Pekerman gave a number of his fringe players the chance to shine as Christian Zapata, Fredy Guarin, Jackson Martinez all started on the bench.

Falcao's Monaco teammate James Rodriguez opened the scoring from the penalty spot after Tunisian keeper Farouk Ben Mustapha had felled Victor Ibarbo after 20 minutes.

Tunisia responded well, though, and were level 15 minutes later when Wahbi Khazri drilled home Yassin Mikari's cross.

Jurgen Klinsmann's United States team lost 2-0 to Ukraine in a game switched to Cyprus because of the worrying security situation in the troubled European country.

Other World Cup finalists were also handed pre-tournament reality checks with Ghana going down 1-0 at Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina, who'll be making their tournament debut, slipping to a 2-0 home loss to Egypt.

Copa America champions Uruguay, who were semifinalists at the 2010 World Cup, were held 1-1 by Austria.