BARCELONA: Neymar scored twice as defending champions Barcelona moved to the brink of sealing their place in the last 16 of the Champions League with a 3-0 win over BATE Borisov on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).
The Brazilian opened the scoring from the penalty spot before teeing up Luis Suarez to double the hosts’ advantage.
Suarez then returned the favor for Neymar to round off the scoring.
The South American strike duo has now scored 18 of Barca’s last 21 goals in all competitions in the prolonged absence of the injured Lionel Messi.
“I am very happy with the game we played. We did what we had to go and got the goals we needed,” Neymar told beIN sports.
“It is clear we miss Messi, but I am in the form of my life and I hope to continue like this.”
However, there was another injury blow for Luis Enrique’s men as Ivan Rakitic hobbled off with a calf problem that could now keep him out of the visit to Real Madrid later this month.
“It is never a nice situation when a player gets injured,” said Barca boss Luis Enrique.
“We are waiting on news from the doctors, but he will definitely miss the next game.”
Victory strengthens Barcelona’s position atop Group E, five points clear of second-placed Roma, who beat Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 in the other game in the group on Wednesday.
Before kick-off Barca showed their outrage at a UEFA fine for the displaying of flags in support of Catalan independence at their last home Champions League against Leverkusen.
An estimated 30,000 of the flags were handed out to fans by pro-independence campaigners and a huge banner saying “respecte” (respect in Catalan) was hung from the stands.
The Champions League anthem was also whistled for which UEFA opened an investigation into Manchester City after their clash with Sevilla a fortnight ago.
Once the game got underway it was once again the Neymar and Suarez show in Messi’s absence.
Suarez had the first big chance of the game after just four minutes, but failed to hit the target from Neymar’s lovely lofted pass.
BATE ‘keeper Sergey Chernik was quick off his line to prevent Neymar as he burst clear on goal moments later.
However, Barca were stung when Rakitic was forced off with a calf problem that makes him a doubt for the season’s first El Clasico in 17 days time.
Munir El Haddadi replaced the Croatian and, despite failing to break his year-long goal drought, he did make a positive impact.
The Spanish under-21 international was only denied his much-craved goal by a brilliant clearance from Nemanja Milunovic to cut out Suarez’s cross.
It was Munir who was brought down by Filip Mladenovic inside the area on the half hour mark and Neymar stepped up to roll home his first Champions League goal of the season.
Neymar turned provider moments later for his compatriot Adriano who sneaked the ball past Chernik only to see the ball come back off the post.
Chernik did well once more to deny Suarez as he pounced on a loose ball inside the area early in the second period.
But there was nothing he could do when the Uruguayan rifled the ball into the bottom corner from Neymar’s pass on the hour mark.
And the roles were reversed seven minutes from time as this time Suarez bore down on goal before unselfishly rolling the ball across the area for Neymar to tap home his 11th goal of the season.