sports 5 days ago

'Samba king' Neres looks to weave past Juventus

AFP

Amsterdam (AFP) -

David Neres may not represent part of Ajax's latest crop of gifted homegrown talent, but the Brazilian import is a chief component of a new golden generation emerging in Amsterdam.

The 22-year-old forward struck a magnificent individual equaliser in the first leg against Juventus to give Ajax hope ahead of Tuesday's return leg of their Champions League quarter-final in Turin.

Signed from Sao Paulo in January 2017 for a reported 12 million euros ($13.6 million), Neres' form in the Dutch capital recently earned the winger a first call-up to the Brazil squad.

Mirroring a fearless Ajax side that has lost just once in five European matches this season against three continental giants -- Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Juve -- Neres impressed on his debut for the Selecao last month. 

He set up a late winning goal in the 3-1 victory over the Czech Republic, and contributed to another with a sublime backheel having come off the bench for the final 27 minutes.

His dance-like moves around opponents on the pitch and his trademark jig after scoring goals have earned Neres the title of Ajax's "Samba King".

His haul of eight league goals only ranks fifth at Ajax this season, but seven in his last nine outings -- both in Europe and the Eredivisie -- show that Neres is hitting his stride at the ideal time.

"With his excellent jewel of a goal, which sent the Ajax supporters into a crazed frenzy, David Neres again underlined his excellent form," popular daily tabloid De Telegraaf said after last week's 1-1 draw.

"Ajax with their home-grown philosophy have exposed Juventus' weaknesses, which showed that they're after all not Ajax or Neres proof," the paper added.

- 'Dribbling, driving and haggling' -

Having fallen behind to a Cristiano Ronaldo header, Neres fired Ajax level early in the second period by robbing Joao Cancelo just inside the Juve half and advancing before curling a shot beyond Wojciech Szczesny and into the far corner.

"David Neres is the dribble king, the street youngster who ignored his mum's calls when it was time to come inside. Dribbling, driving, haggling until he could no more (against Juventus)," wrote Willem Vissers in the De Volkskrant daily.

Neres' path to Europe is one increasingly well trodden, following the likes of Vinicius Junior, Douglas Costa and Richarlison who crossed the Atlantic despite limited first-team exposure in Brazil.

"I think he has the potential to be an important player for the Selecao, but he has to be patient," says Ledio Carmona, a widely respected Brazilian football commentator.

"There are high expectations of him and he deserves to be given a chance, but you can't yet guarantee he will be an indispensable part of the national team."

"He's a cutting-edge player, who does well on the wings, who works for the team and doesn't hesitate to get back and defend," Carmona adds. "He reads the game well and knows how to finish off moves."

With reigning champions Madrid vanquished at the Bernabeu in the last round, Neres and co. will look to deliver a follow-up act in Italy every bit as mesmerising so to end Juventus' hopes of a first European crown in 23 years.