Latin America

Neymar: Copa match felt like UFC fight

Neymar scored Santos' second goal against Juan Aurich Thursday night.
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SAO PAULO (AP)

Brazil striker Neymar says he feared for his safety in the Copa Libertadores match against Peruvian club Juan Aurich, comparing the game to an Ultimate Fighting Championship event.

Neymar said he was fouled hard throughout the match and would have ended up in a hospital if he had not avoided contact on some occasions.

''They fouled me hard the entire match,'' the 20-year-old Neymar said after Santos' 2-0 victory on Thursday. ''If I didn't jump in some ball disputes, I wouldn't be talking to you right now, I would be in a hospital.''

Of the 16 fouls made by Juan Aurich at the Pacaembu stadium, half were on Neymar, who said he was under attack every time he touched the ball.

''It looked more like a UFC fight than a football match,'' he said.

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The fouls started early. Just seven minutes into the match, defender Alfredo Rojas came in hard after Neymar had used some nifty moves to dribble past a few other defenders near midfield. Forward Herlyn Zuniga made another foul just three minutes later, and they continued during most of the match.

One of the worst came in a sliding tackle by Zuniga halfway through the first half. Taking advantage of a wet field under pouring rain, Zuniga went in with his feet first as Neymar tried to move the ball forward outside the area, nearly turning the Brazilian upside down. Zuniga was given a yellow card.

Neymar wasn't able to get out of the way of another dangerous foul in the 85th, when Jorge Molina came in sliding hard and hit the Brazilian player's left ankle.

Argentine referee Patricio Loustau didn't whistle for a foul, indicating that Neymar dived, but the Brazilian had to go off the pitch briefly to be treated, as he did on several other occasions.

''The referees need to understand that I'm not jumping to try to get a foul, it's just to protect myself,'' Neymar said. ''A lot of times I have to jump because otherwise I'll get seriously hurt.''

Neymar acknowledged that he had to get away from some disputes to avoid getting hurt.

''They would have broken his leg if he didn't jump,'' Santos coach Muricy Ramalho said. ''The opponents exaggerate, but Neymar is starting to learn how to avoid this.''

Neymar, touted as Brazil's most promising star, scored Santos' second goal on Thursday with a shot from just inside the area, giving the defending champion the Group 1 lead with nine points, two more than fellow Brazilian club Internacional and than The Strongest of Bolivia.

Juan Aurich, only in its third Copa Libertadores, is last in the group and is yet to win a point. It had already lost 3-1 to Santos last week in Peru, when team captain Luis Guadalupe was sent off early in the second half for an ugly foul.

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