PARIS - Neymar continued his return to top form with a hat-trick in a sublime display to lead Paris Saint-Germain to a 6-1 rout of Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League on Wednesday.
The world's most expensive player admitted on the eve of this game that he still did not feel back to 100 percent after the foot injury which required surgery and saw him miss the last three months of last season.
But he tore a hapless Red Star apart with two goals in the space of two first-half minutes at the Parc des Princes, the first a delightful curling free-kick, before completing his hat-trick from another stunning free-kick late on. Edinson Cavani, Angel di Maria and Kylian Mbappe also scored as PSG bounced back from a 3-2 defeat at Liverpool two weeks ago to register their first points in Group C.
They have a double-header to come next against Napoli, and the Italian side will surely offer a sterner test than Red Star, the 1991 European Cup winners who had been unbeaten in 34 games before arriving at the Parc des Princes and being utterly outclassed.
The Serbians grabbed a consolation goal through Marko Marin in the second half, but they could not cope with the home side's front four, a quartet who cost PSG almost 530 million euros ($610 million) in transfer fees alone.
Such was the imbalance between the teams that PSG were never likely to be troubled despite playing this game with one end of the Parc des Princes closed, a punishment following incidents in the defeat against Real Madrid back in March.
Neymar had already drawn plenty of attention from opponents before he won the free-kick which led to the opening goal in the 20th minute, the Brazilian getting up to curl a fine strike past Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan from 25 yards.
The French league leaders scored again two minutes later as Neymar found Mbappe before meeting the return pass with a lovely cushioned finish. That was Neymar's ninth goal in nine games this season between Ligue 1 and Champions League.
The former Barcelona forward may not yet be back to the same level as before his injury, but he certainly looks in the mood again, with his performance here also notable for a brilliant nutmeg on Milos Degenek that created another shooting opportunity just before half-time.
PSG had already scored twice more by that point, with Cavani finding the net on 37 minutes with the aid of a deflection after some brilliant footwork and Di Maria guiding a Thomas Meunier cross past Borjan in the 41st minute. Neymar produced some more magic in the build-up to PSG's fifth goal 20 minutes from the end, finding Juan Bernat, who squared for Mbappe to get his name on the scoresheet.
Red Star supporters were given something to celebrate as Marin, the former German international winger whose career lost its way after a move to Chelsea, blasted into the roof of the net for a consolation goal in the 74th minute.
But Neymar had the last word, curling another free-kick high into the net to complete his hat-trick nine minutes from time, taking him into double figures for the season. PSG coach Thomas Tuchel then immediately substituted his star player, who walked off to a standing ovation.AFP