BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Neymar’s two-goal performance to help knock Atletico Madrid out of the Copa del Rey showed why Barcelona spared no expense to win the bidding war for the young Brazilian striker.
With his speed and quick dribbling, Neymar scored from two counterattacks started by Lionel Messi to lead Barcelona to a 3-2 win and into the semifinals on a 4-2 aggregate score on Wednesday.
“He is daring. He provides us with so many things with his goals and his ability to challenge on the dribble,” said Barcelona coach Luis Enrique.
Last season, Neymar’s first goal in Barcelona’s burgundy-and-blue came against Atletico to give Barcelona the Spanish Super Cup, its only title from a disappointing campaign.
Now, his 20th and 21st goals of the season have put Barcelona one step closer to another cup final. Only Messi has scored more for Barcelona with 31 goals this season.
Barcelona sports daily SPORT splashed the headline “Ney’s Cup” on Thursday’s front page.
The 22-year-old striker’s swashbuckling style, however, left no one indifferent.
Atletico players bickered with Neymar during the match and openly complained about him afterward.
Neymar and Fernando Torres had to be separated after tempers flared as they held a heated argument while leaving Vicente Calderon pitch at halftime. Atletico midfielder Gabi Fernandez earned a second booking during the break for arguing with the referee, and he didn’t mince words about Neymar.
“He has a peculiar way of playing, above all when he is ahead,” said Gabi. “He always makes gestures that are annoying when he is winning.”
The signing of Neymar from Brazilian club Santos in June 2013 brought Barcelona plenty of problems. A lawsuit filed by one of its club members over the cost of the transfer led to club president Sandro Rosell resigning in January 2014.
Barcelona then paid 13.55 million euros ($18.6 million) to Spanish tax authorities to cover any potential irregularities in its signing of Neymar — which initially cost 57.1 million euros ($74 million).
Less than a month ago Barcelona had entered crisis mode following a loss at Real Sociedad and the firing of its sports director. Luis Enrique looked like he could be the next to go.
But Messi and Neymar have led Barcelona on a seven-game winning streak, including three victories over Atletico, the defending Spanish league champion. Neymar has scored seven times in that stretch.