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Neymar urged to stop flopping, win titles

  • Brazil's Neymar, top, celebrates with team mate Paulinho after scoring his side's opening goal during the round of 16 match between Brazil and Mexico at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Samara Arena, in Samara, Russia, Monday, July 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein) Frank Augstein

  • France's Kylian Mbappe celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the round of 16 match between France and Argentina, at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Kazan Arena in Kazan, Russia, Saturday, June 30, 2018. (AP Photo/David Vincent) David Vincent

  • England's Harry Kane, right, battles for the ball with Colombia's Radamel Falcao during the round of 16 match between Colombia and England at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Spartak Stadium, in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, July 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano) Victor R. Caivano

  • Brazil's Neymar lies on the ground during the round of 16 match between Brazil and Mexico at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Samara Arena, in Samara, Russia, Monday, July 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) Andre Penner

  • Brazil's Neymar lies on the ground besides referee Gianluca Rocchi during the round of 16 match between Brazil and Mexico at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Samara Arena, in Samara, Russia, Monday, July 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein) Frank Augstein

  • A fan of Poland holds up a scarf as he watches a World Cup soccer match between Poland and Colombia at The Garden at Studio Square NYC in New York on Sunday, June 24, 2018. While the immigration debate occupies politicians and new policies have thrown thousands of families into disarray, the World Cup shows how much people from other countries help make up the fabric of New York. (AP Photo/Terrin Waack) Terrin Waack



Associated Press
Wednesday, July 04, 2018

MOSCOW — After a decade of duopoly, the FIFA-run vote to crown soccer’s best player finally seems open to third parties after Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo left the World Cup early.

Neymar must help Brazil lift the trophy next week if he wants to join the greats, according to the World Cup winner who first took home FIFA’s top individual award.

Cutting out the play-acting would also help Neymar win votes, 1990 World Cup winner Lothar Matthaeus said Wednesday.

“We need players like Neymar,” said the former West Germany captain, who won the inaugural FIFA world player award in 1991. “But not with this acting what he was doing now in each game.”

A debate about Neymar faking injury and overreacting to tackles is polarizing opinion between European outrage and Brazilian defense.

Former England forward Alan Shearer called Neymar’s behavior “absolutely pathetic” in a British broadcast Monday. Neymar’s theatrics distracted from Brazil’s 2-0 win over Mexico that took the five-time champion into the quarterfinals.

“The criticism is nonsense,” Brazil great Ronaldo told reporters Wednesday. “I am against all these opinions you mentioned. I don’t think referees have been protecting him enough.”

Ronaldo, a three-time winner of FIFA’s best player award, and Matthaeus spoke at a briefing about the individual accolade that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have won five times each in the past decade.

With Portugal and Argentina both leaving Russia in the round of 16, the award seems open for a new winner to emerge.

“Sure, Neymar — when he will win the World Cup,” said Matthaeus. “You have to win titles with your team.”

Ronaldo and Messi arrived in Russia after Real Madrid won a third straight Champions League title and Barcelona won La Liga. Neymar’s absence since February with a foot injury was barely a blip for Paris Saint-Germain’s procession to win the French league.

“It’s easy to win the title in France,” Matthaeus said. “For me, Neymar this season, he did not show until now he can be the best.”

The German great picked out another PSG star, Kylian Mbappe of France, England captain Harry Kane and Croatia captain Luka Modric as potential candidates for the FIFA award when voting opens July 23.

The winner announced in London on Sept. 24 is judged by a vote by national team coaches and captains, plus media from FIFA’s 211 member countries, and fans voting online. It is separate from the Golden Ball given to the World Cup’s best player.

Ronaldo singled out Neymar as a potential winner — noting that he himself won the FIFA award after an injury-hit season that peaked with Brazil’s World Cup title. Ronaldo’s eight goals in Japan and South Korea included both in the final, a 2-0 win over Germany.

“The results for Neymar with the national team are incredible and he’s still not at his best,” Ronaldo said.

Matthaeus suggested an 11th year of Messi-Ronaldo dominance is likely.

“I give them maybe one or two years more,” he said, “then there will come a change for this award.”

Ratings down 42 percent without American team

MOSCOW — The lack of a U.S. team caused a big viewership drop for World Cup telecasts.

The 48 group stage broadcasts on Fox and FS1 averaged 2,069,000 viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. That is down 42 percent from the 3.54 million average on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC four years ago and down 15 percent from the 2,429,000 average on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC eight years ago.

Excluding games involving the U.S. team in previous World Cups, the average declined 28 percent from the 2014 tournament in Brazil and was up 1 percent from the 2010 tournament in South Africa.

Most group-stage kickoff times this year were morning EDT, starting as early as 6 a.m., and the latest matches began at 2 p.m. Games in 2014 started mostly from noon to 4 p.m. EDT, while in 2010 games there were many matches at 10 a.m. and some as early as 7:30 a.m.

Twenty-six group-stage matches were aired on Fox, up from six on ABC in 2014 and four on ABC in 2010.

Ratings include only television viewers and not those who viewed digital streams.

Spanish-language coverage for Telemundo and Universo, both part of Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal Inc., averaged 1.96 million viewers, including digital streaming. That was down 26 percent from the 2.64 million average on Univision and Unimas four years ago and up 7 percent from the 1.84 million average for Univision’s networks in 2010.