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Zidane, Simeone, Enrique defend Neymar’s criticized late-game antics

CD Leganes v FC Barcelona - La Liga

LEGANES, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 17: Neymar JR. (L) of FC Barcelona competes for the ball with Unai Bustinza (R) of Deportivo Leganes during the La Liga match between Deportivo Leganes and FC Barcelona at Estadio Municipal de Butarque on September 17, 2016 in Leganes, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

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MADRID (AP) Even rivals are coming out to defend Neymar after his late-game antics got him into trouble in the Spanish league.

The Brazil forward use his ball trickery in Barcelona’s 5-1 win over Leganes last week, prompting a wave of criticism from people who accused him of showing off and trying to provoke opponents. Neymar appeared to ignore the un-written convention that top players should not make lesser opponents look foolish.

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Three key former players who turned coaches supported Neymar on Tuesday, the day before Barcelona’s game against rival Atletico Madrid.

“Neymar has fun playing football. They can criticize him as much as they want, but he responds where he needs to respond,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “He has his own style. He is an extraordinary player.”

With the victory safely secured on Saturday, Neymar used back-heel passes and other nifty moves against Leganes defenders. He scored one of the team’s goals in the 44th minute and was fouled inside the area - leading to a penalty kick converted by Lionel Messi in the 55th.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said he didn’t think Neymar was disrespecting his opponents.

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“I don’t think he is trying to provoke anybody,” the former France midfielder said. “He can do things that not a lot of players can do. You would have to ask him directly, but I don’t think it’s a provocation.”

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said Neymar’s style shouldn’t surprise anybody.

“He has been playing like this since he got here,” Luis Enrique said. “And we want him to keep his playing like this, we enjoy it. He is allowed by the rules to do what he does.”

Tales Azzoni is on Twitter, and his work can be found here.