Neymar has paid tribute to Kobe Bryant after the basketball icon was killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar scored twice as the Ligue 1 leaders ran out 2-0 victors over Lille, and dedicated his second goal to Bryant by holding up two fingers on one hand and four on the other – Bryant having worn the number 24 jersey for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Following the final whistle, Neymar – a basketball fan – hailed Bryant's impact, stating his death is a sad moment for the entire world of sport.

"I looked at the messages at half-time," Neymar told Canal+. "This is a time of immense sadness for the world of sport and for all of us, not just basketball fans.

"I knew him and I made this celebration to pay tribute to him. I hope he rests in peace."

Bryant won five NBA championships and made 18 NBA All-Star teams during a 20-year stint with the Lakers.

Sporting stars from across the globe, including Tom Brady and Neymar, have paid tribute to Kobe Bryant after the Los Angeles Lakers icon was killed in a helicopter crash.

Bryant, 41, died on Sunday in a crash close to the city of Calabasas in Los Angeles County, California.

Eight others on board, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, also lost their lives.

Following the initial reports of Bryant's passing, athletes and teams from across the world of sport posted their tributes to the Lakers great on social media.

New England Patriots great Brady wrote on his Twitter page: "We miss you already, Kobe."

Patrick Mahomes, another superstar NFL quarterback, said: "Man, not Kobe. Prayers to his family and friends!"

Bryant was an Olympic champion like Usain Bolt, the great sprinter, who posted a picture of the former NBA star on his page.

"Still can't believe ⁦[it] @kobebryant," he said.

World number one golfer Brooks Koepka posted a lengthy message in memory of his "hero".

"Kobe Bryant was my HERO growing up. Even to this day he was an inspiration to the way I approached things," he wrote, adding: "His mentality motivated me not only in hard times but throughout my whole life. RIP, Kobe."

Footballer Raheem Sterling said: "Rest easy, legend."

Meanwhile, Neymar, who scored twice in Paris Saint-Germain's win over Lille on Sunday, dedicated his second goal to the Lakers legend.

Drew Brees spoke to ESPN from the Pro Bowl, saying of Bryant: "I had the chance to meet him one time. He was a guy I hoped to have the chance to be around more.

"I had so much respect for him as a competitor. I know he inspired so many people in so many different ways.

"He was one of the great competitors of any generation - not just with sports but the way he approached a lot of things with what he was doing now after basketball.

"I pray for him, I pray for his family. It's a tragic loss."

Neymar scored twice as Paris Saint-Germain claimed a hard-earned 2-0 victory over Lille to extend their lead at the top of Ligue 1 to 10 points.

Having opened the scoring with a sublime strike in the 28th minute of Sunday's encounter at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Neymar doubled his tally with a penalty early in the second half.

After netting his second goal, Neymar appeared to pay tribute to Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who was reported to have died in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

Lille felt harshly treated by the VAR for PSG's second, though they were fortunate Mauro Icardi and Kylian Mbappe squandered chances to further the visitors' lead as a 14-match unbeaten home league run came to an end.

Luiz Araujo's long-range effort forced Keylor Navas into a save nine minutes in as Lille took the game straight to the league leaders.

But a moment of sheer brilliance from Neymar gave PSG the lead, the Brazil star combining with Marco Verratti before curling an exquisite finish into the top-right corner.

Mbappe would have made it 2-0 if not for Gabriel's block, but Lille might have been level had Presnel Kimpembe not got a toe to Victor Osimhen's strike.

With substitute Nianzou Kouassi having denied Osimhen a tap-in, Mike Maignan made a brave stop to keep out Mbappe at the other end moments later, yet to Lille's chagrin, PSG were awarded a penalty for a handball by Reinildo.

Lille's frustration was compounded by the VAR not deeming there to have been a foul by Idrissa Gueye in the build-up, with Neymar's penalty just squeezing beyond Maignan.

Icardi should have done better with a near-post header and Mbappe failed to beat Maignan as PSG looked to add to their lead, but the visitors ultimately settled for a two-goal cushion, while Loic Remy saw a stoppage-time consolation disallowed for offside.
 

What does it mean? PSG put last season's thrashing well behind them

PSG slumped to a shock 5-1 defeat in the corresponding fixture last term, but despite Lille's positive approach, Thomas Tuchel's side just had too much this time around. They are now 10 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 after second-placed Marseille drew at home to Angers.

Neymar lights up the stage with stunning opener

PSG's number 10 missed the chance to set a new club record of goals in consecutive games when he failed to net in the Coupe de la Ligue triumph over Reims last time out, but he rediscovered his scoring form in sensational style here, brilliantly controlling Angel Di Maria's pass before exchanging passes with Verratti and expertly picking out the top corner.

Icardi kept unusually quiet

The form of Inter loanee Icardi has left Edinson Cavani looking for a move away from PSG, but the striker was not at his best on Sunday. Indeed, he only had four touches in Lille's box throughout the 72 minutes he spent on the pitch.

What's next?

Both sides are in Coupe de France action next on Wednesday. PSG visit Pau while Lille face Epinal.

Neymar is "determined to give everything" for Paris Saint-Germain, according to goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

Brazil international Neymar was heavily linked with a return to Barcelona in the close season, just two years after leaving them for a world-record fee of €222million.

But the 27-year-old has scored 64 goals in 74 appearances for PSG and this season formed a key part of the 'Fantastic Four' with Kylian Mbappe, Mauro Icardi and Angel Di Maria.

Neymar has reportedly cancelled a party for his upcoming birthday in order to focus solely on PSG, a mentality Navas has taken note of.

Asked about the club's formidable attacking line-up, Navas told Telefoot: "These are players with an incredible level and, for me, it is a privilege to be able to play with them.

"We feel calmer and we believe in them. We know that they will do good work.

"Neymar is a player at a whole different level, in a different world. We are very happy to have him in our team because he helps us a lot, he makes us stronger. And we know that he is determined to give everything."

After being eliminated from the Champions League at the quarter-final stage for four straight seasons from 2012-13, PSG have exited the competition at the last 16 in their three most recent campaigns.

Thomas Tuchel's side have a tricky tie with his former team Borussia Dortmund in the first knockout round coming up this term, but Navas believes they are ready to break new ground.

"We have a very good squad, all the conditions are there, we are ambitious and we want to win titles," said the Costa Rica international, who arrived from Real Madrid in September.

"This team is of a very high calibre, with players who achieve incredible things individually but the most important thing is that the squad is united 100 per cent.

"I am very happy, everyone here welcomed me really nicely, my family feels good and I have great team-mates. I am really enjoying myself. However, that is never sufficient.

"I always want to win, again and again. I did not come to PSG to have a good time, but to work with humility, desire and above all to win titles because that's what we love."

Paris Saint-Germain have the chance to regain the Coupe de la Ligue title after defeating 10-man Reims 3-0 to set up a final against Lyon, scoring their 4,000th goal in the process.

PSG were five-time defending champions when they were beaten by eventual runners up Guingamp in the quarters last season, but Thomas Tuchel's side had little trouble in progressing to their first final of the season on Wednesday.

Having had to wait until late on in their scrappy Coupe de France win over Lorient on Sunday, PSG had things far easier from the off thanks to Marquinhos' early header. 

Ghislain Konan's own goal doubled PSG's tally, with Marshall Munetsi's red card reducing Reims to 10 men before substitute Nianzou Kouassi bundled in the capital club's landmark competitive goal to wrap up the win in style.

Having made a vital last-ditch block as PSG withstood some early pressure, Marquinhos made his mark at the other end in the ninth minute, rising highest to head home Neymar's cross.

Kylian Mbappe wanted a penalty moments later, though referee Mikael Lesage rightly judged Reims goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic to have made no contact.

PSG had their second just after the half hour – the unfortunate Konan only able to divert Neymar's brilliant free-kick into his own side's net.

Chasing a club record, Neymar curled wide from the edge of the box on the hour, though Keylor Navas had to keep out Boulaye Dia's effort soon after, with PSG then losing Marquinhos to injury.

Reims' task was made tougher when Munetsi was sent off for a lunge on Marco Verratti, however, and it was Marquinhos' replacement Kouassi who was on hand to deal the final blow from close range after Rajkovic repelled Leandro Paredes' volley.

With tempers boiling over, Rajkovic was fortunate not to join Munetsi in seeing red when he lashed out at Mbappe as PSG cruised into the final.

What does it mean? Last Coupe de la Ligue final sees heavyweights meet

April's final will be the last of the Coupe de la Ligue, with the competition having been scrapped ahead of next season.

PSG v Lyon should prove to be a fitting finale, though – the capital club have won the tournament a record eight times, while seven-time Ligue 1 champions Lyon are looking for just their second Coupe de la Ligue title, having previously triumphed in 2000-01.

Captain Marquinhos leads by example

Marquinhos has been struggling with an injury in recent weeks, but returned to PSG's line-up as skipper at Stade Auguste-Delaune and put in an imperious display at the back, capping it off with a fine header for the visitors' opener at the other end. However, his night was marred by an injury, which forced him off midway through the second half.

No record for Neymar

Having scored in eight successive appearances, Neymar was on the verge of setting a new club record for a longest scoring streak. Despite playing a key part in both of PSG's first-half goals, the forward was unable to find the net himself as the chance to put his name into the PSG record books went begging.

What's next?

Both sides return to Ligue 1 action at the weekend, with PSG travelling to Lille on Sunday, a day after Reims host Metz.

Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel is thrilled by Kylian Mbappe's ambition to win a "triple-whammy" of the Champions League, Euro 2020 and the Olympics football tournament this year.

Mbappe, 21, has already won nine trophies in senior football, including the 2018 World Cup, in which the striker scored four times.

PSG again look on track to dominate French football this season, as they lead Ligue 1 and remain in the hunt in the Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue.

But the trophy that has continued to elude them since Qatar Sports Investments took over as majority shareholders in 2011 is the Champions League, and Mbappe wants to finally end that wait this season, before then going on to enjoy Euro 2020 and Olympics success with his country.

While this ambition is not new to Tuchel, the German feels such belief will stand him in good stead.

"Well, okay, that is good," Tuchel told reporters when asked about Mbappe's declaration. "It means that we can work, it is a great challenge, three great challenges and goals.

"But with him, it's always like that. He is convinced of that and I think it's a good thing because it means he is very confident and you need confidence to achieve such goals.

"I hope, at least for PSG, that he will be able to achieve the first [the Champions League] and then the second and third for France."

Since initially joining on loan from Monaco in 2017, Mbappe has scored 59 goals in 70 Ligue 1 matches and forged an impressive partnership with Neymar, who boasts a haul of 45 from 49 outings across the same period.

The pair appear to have an impressive understanding of each other on the pitch, though Tuchel insists PSG do not train in an attempt to improve Neymar and Mbappe, but rather learn how best to capitalise on their brilliance.

"We always work with the positions during training, and together they train during possession games, for example," Tuchel said. "They like to play alongside each other. They are very smooth in their movements and there is a great partnership between the two of them.

"But it's not on us to improve them because they have the quality to do that. We have to find spaces and create a structure and the formation where both are free to attack.

"Maybe we have to create an understanding of when and where they can take risks or when and where they have to be more careful, but both are brilliant."

PSG travel to Reims in the Coupe de la Ligue semi-finals on Wednesday, with Mbappe and Neymar expected to feature after being rested during Sunday's 1-0 Coupe de France victory over Ligue 2's Lorient.

Manchester United are no closer to concluding their long-running search for a director of football.

Rumours emerged over the weekend indicating the Red Devils were closing in on Lille's Luis Campos, famed for spotting the likes of Kylian Mbappe during his time at Monaco.

But fresh reports in France suggest United will be left frustrated in any bid to lure the Portuguese to Old Trafford.

 

UNITED TARGET NOT INTERESTED IN LEAVING LILLE

Claims that United have commenced negotiations with 55-year-old Campos are wide of the mark, reports Le 10 Sport.

There has apparently been no contact between the parties and, in any case, the former Real Madrid scout is said to have no plans to leave Lille.

United's 2-0 defeat to Liverpool on Sunday and the loss of Marcus Rashford has exacerbated the need for signings, an area in which Campos was expected to assist.

Campos previously had a long career as a head coach in his native Portugal, where he led Gil Vicente and Beira-Mar among others.

ROUND-UP

- Paris Saint-Germain are in preliminary talks with Neymar's representatives about a contract extension, according to French broadcaster TF1, although the Brazilian would prefer to delay concrete discussions.

- Krzysztof Piatek's proposed switch to Tottenham has stalled over Milan's £30million asking price, claims the Daily Mail.

- Spurs could turn their attention to Leicester City flop Islam Slimani, according to the Telegraph. The 31-year-old is out on loan at Monaco, where he has scored seven goals in 13 Ligue 1 games.

- Inter forward Matteo Politano favours a return to Serie A rivals Roma but may be given the option of leaving San Siro for Sevilla, says Corriere dello Sport.

- LaLiga side Espanyol hope to sign Reinier on loan once the Brazilian teenager's move to Real Madrid goes through, reports Spanish newspaper SPORT.

Pablo Sarabia's header 10 minutes from time ensured Paris Saint-Germain did just enough to beat Ligue 2 side Lorient 1-0 and book their place in the last 16 of the Coupe de France.

Thomas Tuchel's men were far from their best at Stade du Moustoir and extra-time appeared to be on the cards, but Sarabia was decisive in the 80th minute to end Lorient's hopes of an upset.

While Tuchel did use the opportunity to rest some of his key players, PSG still had an exceptionally strong starting XI – but they offered very little spark or imagination in the first half, with Lorient actually crafting the best chance.

The contest was more open after half-time, particularly in the final 20 minutes, and Sarabia produced a well-placed header late on to seal the victory, as PSG look to go one better than last season in the competition, having finished runners-up in 2018-19

Although PSG managed eight shots in the first half, there was a distinct lack of goalmouth action and the Parisians struggled to test Paul Nardi in the Lorient goal.

The only major opportunity of the opening 45 minutes fell to the home side just past the half-hour mark – Yoane Wissa heading Jimmy Cabot's cross just wide from close range.

PSG were no more of a creative threat after the interval, with Angel Di Maria, Julian Draxler and Sarabia underwhelming in their attempts to supply Mauro Icardi with good service.

Icardi was finally presented with a chance in the 67th minute, latching on to Sarabia's looping header at the back post, but Nardi just managed to get in the way when the opening goal looked a certainty.

Chances began to flow a little more in the final 15 minutes, as Thiago Silva cut out a potentially goal-bound shot from Vincent Le Goff and Nardi made a fine save to thwart Sarabia.

But the former Sevilla winger was not to be denied soon after, peeling off his marker to head home Silva's delivery.

 

What does it mean? PSG persist but lack of decisiveness a concern

It is not often that PSG struggle to break their opponents down. With a slightly altered supporting cast for Icardi, the Parisians often appeared short of ideas on Sunday. Perhaps it came down to a lack of focus - if so, Tuchel will need to stamp that out quickly if they are to enjoy a successful season across all fronts.

Nardi a safe pair of hands

He perhaps did not come under quite as much pressure as he might have expected, but Nardi still produced a commanding performance in Lorient's goal. His save to deny Icardi in the second half was excellent, while he looked confident when dealing with crosses and high deliveries.

Di Maria disappoints

The most experienced player in PSG's attack on the day, Di Maria certainly cannot be accused of going missing, but very little of what he did was positive. Only one of his seven shots was accurate and he produced a solitary key pass – hardly decisive.

What's next?

Another cup tie awaits PSG, as they go to Reims in the Coupe de la Ligue on Wednesday. Lorient return to league action two days later as the Ligue 2 leaders host Nancy.

Kylian Mbappe scored twice as Paris Saint-Germain returned to winning ways in Ligue 1 with a 4-1 victory over Monaco in a match marred by contentious VAR decisions.

Three days after their teams played out a 3-3 draw at Parc des Princes, coaches Thomas Tuchel and Robert Moreno clashed on the touchline at Stade Louis II in a rearranged match. 

An end-to-end start was capped off by Mbappe resuming his scoring run, though VAR should have awarded Monaco a penalty shortly after the restart.

Monaco's frustration with the officiating was compounded in first-half stoppage time as Neymar scored his second penalty in as many matches after a blatant dive from Layvin Kurzawa.

Pablo Sarabia's strike increased PSG's lead - though only after a VAR review - with Tiemoue Bakayoko scuffing in a consolation goal before Mbappe doubled his tally in stoppage time.

Both teams picked up where they left off after Sunday's thrilling encounter in Paris, Keylor Navas and Benjamin Lecomte making excellent stops before Mbappe slotted home in the 24th minute.

A lengthy VAR check for a possible foul and offside frustrated PSG, and Gelson Martins would have equalised immediately if not for Navas, though the hosts were furious that they were not awarded a penalty for an apparent handball by Presnel Kimpembe prior to the shot.

And, after Lecomte had made a fantastic save from Mbappe and Colin Dagba had a goal disallowed for offside, Monaco felt let down by more poor officiating.

Kamil Glik stood his ground heading into a challenge with Kurzawa, who clearly initiated the contact on the byline, yet VAR did not overturn the referee's decision to award PSG a penalty, which Neymar converted.

Wissam Ben Yedder should have done better at the end of a superb move midway through the second half, but the contest was settled when Sarabia volleyed in a minute after coming on.

Navas' mistake did allow Bakayoko to bundle in a deserved goal for Monaco, yet it was Mbappe who had the final say when he raced through to add his second, this time celebrating against his former club after not doing so first time around.

An exasperated Thomas Tuchel accepted he no longer knows the offside rules after he was left baffled by the decision to allow Islam Slimani's Monaco equaliser to stand during Paris Saint-Germain's 3-3 draw on Sunday.

During a thrilling encounter at the Parc des Princes, PSG took an early lead through Neymar, only to then fall behind to strikes from Gelson Martins and Wissam Ben Yedder – the latter netting in the 13th minute.

The pendulum swung back in PSG's favour thanks to a Fode Ballo Toure own goal and Neymar's penalty just prior to the break, but controversially Monaco sealed a share of the spoils in Robert Moreno's first Ligue 1 game as coach 20 minutes from time.

Gelson's shot found its way to the seemingly offside Slimani via a touch from Marquinhos that was deemed to be deliberate, and the on-loan Leicester City striker swept home – VAR ruling in the visitors' favour after the assistant initially ruled it out.

Tuchel was bemused by the situation.

"The third goal… I don't, I can't understand," Tuchel said in his post-match news conference. "Really, why is it not offside?

"Everybody said to me that it is the new rule. Okay - after that, I have to say that I don't understand the rules, but it doesn't help."

Tuchel suggested before the match he was considering deploying Marquinhos – normally a centre-back – in midfield, but in the end he opted to select the Brazilian in defence, with Idrissa Gueye partnering Marco Verratti.

It was put to Tuchel that Gueye and Verratti might not be entirely compatible, while the German explained he played Marquinhos at the back due to recent injury problems in that position.

In a prickly response, Tuchel said: "Do you think differently, that they [Gueye and Verratti] are not complementary? Do you think I would start the two if I thought they're not complementary? Doesn't make sense right?

"For me, Marquinhos can play both positions at an unbelievable level. He is a world-class player in both positions.

"Recently we've some troubles [in defence], because Presnel [Kimpembe] was injured for a few weeks, Thilo Kehrer was injured for a long time, he's already played twice, so it was not the moment for him to play a third time, Abdou Diallo was not available and it was the first game for Thiago Silva.

"That's why we used Marquinhos, because it was the logical solution for this game, but for me, it's still possible to play with Marquinhos in midfield, because he gives the team some quality, a lot of energy and personality.

"It was necessary for me to find a solution like that [against Monaco] because my three central defenders are injured, or just got back from injuries. It was logical."

PSG remain in charge at the Ligue 1 summit with 46 points from 19 matches, five clear of Marseille. Monaco are eighth.

Neymar wants Paris Saint-Germain to stick with their all-out attacking approach despite Monaco twice coming from behind to claim a thrilling 3-3 Ligue 1 draw at the Parc des Princes.

Neymar was on sparkling form, scoring twice and forcing Fode Ballo-Toure's own goal but Monaco gave as good as they got in an absorbing contest in Paris on Sunday.

Gelson Martins and Wissam Ben Yedder overturned Neymar's early opener to give Robert Moreno's Monaco the lead inside 15 minutes and Islam Slimani smuggled in another equaliser 20 minutes from time.

Neymar and Angel Di Maria flanked Mauro Icardi and Kylian Mbappe in attack but PSG's backline was frequently exposed.

Nevertheless, Neymar – the world's most expensive footballer – is backing head coach Thomas Tuchel's strategy.

"We scored three goals. I think that it worked well," Neymar told reporters.

"We have quality, we know it. I think you made a mistake with this question but I responded."

Neymar believes Sunday's test will stand PSG in good stead as they once again compete for multiple honours, with Tuchel's old employers Borussia Dortmund their last-16 opponents when the Champions League resumes next month.

"This was a very difficult match," the Brazil international added. "We knew that we were going to encounter difficulties because they have a good team, with quality.

"It was a good test. We are happy. This was not the best match of our season. We are going to improve each time to pull off a great campaign."

Monaco twice came from behind to claim a 3-3 draw in a Ligue 1 thriller against Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes on Sunday.

Gelson Martins swiftly cancelled out Neymar's early opener and Thomas Tuchel's men were behind to a fine Wissam Ben Yedder goal by the time the world's most expensive player forced a Fode Ballo-Toure own goal.

Neymar's penalty put leaders PSG ahead at the break but substitute Islam Slimani came up with a VAR-assisted leveller.

The remarkable first half burst into life inside three minutes as Neymar darted on to Marco Verratti's lofted pass to coolly finish.

Monaco refused to be cowed and Gelson slotted into an unguarded net four minutes later when Keylor Navas brought down Ben Yedder and play was allowed to continue.

Keita Balde was then booked for simulation inside the PSG area but was involved in a superb Monaco second, exchanging one-twos with Aleksandr Golovin down the left before finding Ben Yedder to brilliantly beat Juan Bernat and fire home.

Navas saved with his boot to stop Balde making it 3-1 and that moment seemingly shocked PSG back into life. Ballo-Toure turned Neymar's shot from Angel Di Maria's pass into his own net and it was all square once more.

Monaco captain Kamil Glik headed Cesc Fabregas' left-wing corner against the near post before PSG regained the lead in the 42nd minute – Neymar sending Benjamin Lecomte the wrong way after a panicked Gelson clattered into Kylian Mbappe.

Lecomte stood firm to thwart Neymar at close quarters nine minutes into a second half where the pace somewhat inevitably relented.

Monaco hung in the contest and snatched a disputed equaliser 20 minutes from time.

Slimani was flagged offside when he scrambled home the rebound from Gelson's shot, but replays showed Marquinhos got a touch on the ball before it ran towards the on-loan Leicester City striker.

Navas tipped over to deny Slimani an unlikely winner before Neymar's sumptuous chipped pass in stoppage time gave Mbappe the chance to claim an outright club record of scoring in an 11th consecutive PSG match, but the striker sliced wide.

What does it mean? PSG's chin tested after Robert's Monaco came out swinging

PSG dropped points for only the fourth time this season, leaving them five points ahead of Marseille at the summit with a game in hand. This high-class encounter should do them little harm as attentions begin to turn back towards the Champions League, while Monaco are in the hunt for a return to European football and look to have some of their old swagger back under Robert Moreno.

Neymar shows style and substance

Injuries and the saga over his long-term club future have provided a less-than-ideal backdrop to Neymar's third season in Paris. But he has now scored in each of his past seven matches in all competitions – a run dating back to December 4. The Brazil star was unplayable at times and the sight of him charging back to his own box to break up a Monaco counter-attack with an hour played heartened the Parc des Princes faithful.

Verratti fails to stem the tide

Italy international Verratti showed his undoubted quality with the pass for Neymar's opener but his other role in Tuchel's expansive attacking line-up is to help protect the back four. Too often, he came up woefully short in this department against a vibrant Monaco, not least when Gelson's deft spin left him on the turf in the build-up to Slimani's equaliser.

What's next

These two sides will do it all again in their rescheduled Stade Louis II clash on Wednesday. Sunday's evidence in Paris certainly suggested it will not be one to miss.

Andres Iniesta believes Barcelona would not regret bringing Neymar back from Paris Saint-Germain.

Brazil star Neymar has been repeatedly linked with a Camp Nou return over the past six months, with PSG digging in during the Ligue 1 close season to ensure he stayed in Paris.

An astonishing move to the French giants in August 2017 saw Neymar bought out of his Barcelona contract for a world-record €222million, and PSG hoped he would lead them to Champions League glory.

Only this week, Neymar said he felt the longed-for European glory remained a possibility this season, and he has seen off much of the hostility from Parisian supporters that followed several months of appearing to agitate for a return to Barca.

Yet as PSG bid to scoop a third successive Ligue 1 title and brace for a Champions League last-16 clash with Borussia Dortmund, rumours linking Neymar to the Blaugrana continue to linger.

Iniesta was a team-mate of Neymar's at Barcelona. Now a Vissel Kobe player, the Spain great has no doubt Neymar would slot back in and make a big contribution if a return could be negotiated.

"He's one of the best forwards out there, not just now," Iniesta said, quoted in Marca.

"He'd be a great signing for Barcelona. Another thing is whether it's necessary or not. For me, he's one of the best and he'd be a great signing."

Barcelona have a strong array of attacking talent, with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann leading the line in Thursday's Supercopa clash against Atletico Madrid.

Messi and Suarez are both 32, however, and eventually Barcelona will need a succession plan when it comes to their vaunted attack. Neymar does not turn 28 until next month.

Iniesta remains in awe of Messi's achievements, though, saying of the six-time Ballon d'Or winner: "He keeps outdoing himself, beating records; he's more important than ever.

"It's the best news for Barcelona that he's like this. I hope that he can achieve the objectives that he has this season."

Paris Saint-Germain cruised into the semi-finals of the Coupe de la Ligue after Mauro Icardi scored a hat-trick in a 6-1 victory over 10-man Saint-Etienne.

The 2017-18 champions were in control of a one-sided contest before Wesley Fofana received his marching orders, leaving his team-mates to face an onslaught from PSG's four-pronged attack.

Icardi opened the scoring early in the first half and, after Neymar dinked in the second and goalkeeper Jessy Moulin bundled a third into his own net, the former Inter striker fired a second-half brace.

Not to be left out of the goal glut, Kylian Mbappe scored a sixth before Yohan Cabaye's late strike proved little consolation for Claude Puel's men, who bowed out with their tails between their legs.

Thomas Tuchel can reflect on another rampant attacking performance from his side, who have scored 29 goals in their last six games in all competitions, and remain very much in contention for silverware on four fronts.

Saint-Etienne were carved open with ease after two minutes when Thomas Meunier's slide-rule pass into the box found Icardi, whose angled shot Moulin would have saved had the visiting goalkeeper stood tall but it flashed over his crouching frame and high into the net.

Having earlier been booked for handball, Fofana was sent off after he caught Angel Di Maria's heels as the Argentina winger sprinted towards goal, and the 10 men were powerless to stop Neymar chipping Moulin for PSG's second after Di Maria threaded the assist.

Any hopes Puel had of rallying his team at the interval were spoiled when Mbappe's audacious backheel put Di Maria through for a cross that ricocheted off two defenders' shins before rebounding off the post, onto Moulin's legs and into the unguarded net.

Di Maria started the move that delivered PSG's fourth just four minutes after half-time, his pass releasing Mbappe whose cross deceived Moulin and left Icardi to fire into an empty net.

Saint-Etienne failed to cope with Mbappe's pace down the left and he burst clear before squaring to Icardi for the hosts' fifth shortly before the hour mark, and Icardi returned the favour 10 minutes later when he met Di Maria's long pass with a volley that played Mbappe in to score at close range.

Substitute Edinson Cavani had the ball in the net 10 minutes from time but he was flagged offside, compounding the Uruguayan's frustrations at missing out on much of a prolific period for PSG.

After Di Maria felled substitute Edmilson Indjai Correia in the box 20 minutes from time, Cabaye had a penalty saved by Sergio Rico but the midfielder met the rebound with a header that glided over the goalkeeper and into the net.

What does it mean? Icardi catching Mbappe

With few teams able to go toe-to-toe with PSG this season, their forwards are competing among themselves and Icardi's treble takes him to within two goals of catching Mbappe's tally of 19 in all competitions as the club's leading goal-scorer.

What a difference a year makes

It seems hard to believe that little short of a year ago Icardi was injury plagued, unsettled and facing an unclear future at Inter.

His revival under Tuchel has been spectacular and here he was back to his clinical best.

Juan to forget

On a night when Saint-Etienne barely got a sniff of the ball, Juan Bernat's overplaying at the back still threatened to allow them back into the game early on and he was wasteful with the ball going forward.

What's next?

PSG will likely face a stiffer test when they entertain Monaco in Ligue 1 on Sunday, while Saint-Etienne are at home against fifth-placed Nantes.

Neymar is confident this could be the year Paris Saint-Germain end their wait for a Champions League trophy.

Having long been the dominant force in French domestic football, European supremacy has eluded the capital club.

The 2011 takeover of the club by Qatar Sports Investments took PSG to another level financially, paving the way for Neymar's arrival six years later.

But even with that backing and a wealth of talent on the pitch, the most sought-after prize has eluded the Parisians.

Asked if that could change in 2020, when the first hurdle for Thomas Tuchel's side is to get past Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16, Neymar told Red Bull: "Yes, I think there's a possibility we can make it.

"In terms of the team and players, since I've played for PSG, this is the most prepared and strongest year we had in my opinion. So, I think we have a chance.

"Although PSG has never won the Champions League, we are going to fight for this title. We know our values and we hope to be in the final."

Neymar, who won Europe's top prize with Barcelona in 2015, has endured a sometimes troubled relationship with the fans at PSG, with reports over his apparent desire to leave doing little to endear him to the faithful.

Injury niggles have also limited his playing time, with off-field issues placing further strain on the 27-year-old.

The former Barcelona star concedes the past 12 months have been "tough", but he hopes to learn from his experiences.

"Professionally and personally, 2019 was a tough year for me," he said.

"It was a year full of learnings and turnarounds. I injured myself and had to come back. Then I injured myself again.

"Although it seems like a bad year, it was a year full of learnings and lots of experiences. I am taking the positive side of it so that 2020 can be better."

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