Brazil have Neymar to thank for their progression to the Confederations Cup semi-finals as the new Barcelona signing disguised a dour team performance by providing his most impressive display to date for the Selecao.
Despite a record of 138 goals in 230 games for Santos, the 21-year-old remains a player who divides opinion. Having had his name mentioned alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, he was adjudged to have not adequately displayed the ability to warrant such comparisons when in the global eye. Doubts over how good he could become had, perhaps justifiably, arisen.
| THE OPENING GOAL
|9′||GOOOOOAL! BRAZIL 1-0 MEXICO!!! Superb goal from Neymar. He’s at it again! Superb run from Dani Alves on the right, with a fine cross, headed away by the defender. Only in the path of Neymar, who volleys into the bottom corner.|
| MESMERISING ASSIST
|93′||GOOOOOOAL! BRAZIL 2-0 MEXICO! A rather stunning goal that, despite the simple finish applied. Neymar with a bit of skill to bamboozle the defence and set up Jo to tap in.|
That was until the start of the Confederations Cup. Neymar set the tournament alight with a stunning strike inside three minutes in the opening game against Japan, setting a high benchmark for himself to live up to in the process.
Against Mexico on Wednesday, the Paulista-born icon shone with a game-deciding performance to book his side a place in the semi-finals.
Having only previously played five competitive games for his side, it was undoubtedly his best performance for theCanarinha. Yes, two goals against Ecuador in the third and final group game of the 2011 Copa America helped ensure his nation finished top of their group, but two years down the line and with a €57 million (£48m) price tag hanging over him the pressure to perform had never been greater.
Neymar wrote on Instagram before the game that he would draw strength from the current unrest in the country, which has led to protests in Brazil’s biggest cities: “The only way I can represent and defend Brazil is on the field, playing football … and for this game against Mexico I take to the field inspired by this movement.” He did not disappoint.
Just nine minutes after kick off the former Peixe star broke the deadlock, displaying great technique to guide a precise volley into the bottom corner. After an electric 10 minutes Brazil were guilty of taking their foot off the gas for the remainder and a more adventurous side than Mexico could have punished them.
Nevertheless, throughout the game excitement and anticipation pulsed through the stands whenever Neymar touched the ball. He refused to stop and in the closing stages he rewarded the adoring spectators by supplying another moment of magic, skipping between Hiram Mier and Francisco Rodriguez to set Jo up for Brazil’s second.
Finding the correct balance in midfield remains a problem for Luiz Felipe Scolari to solve, but against El Trihis side were forced to rely on the former Santos man alone in attack. Hulk’s commitment was evident but he was found lacking in the craft and finishing departments as his international drought stretched to seven games.
Fred and Oscar, meanwhile, were almost non-existent. The Fluminense striker is a penalty-box predator and if he does not receive such service he is liable to go quiet, while the latter was uncharacteristically poor, failing to dictate the tempo and direction of his team’s movements.
But with his most impressive and important outing for Brazil the virtuoso talent certainly showed why the reigning La Liga champions were willing to part with such a sum to acquire his services. After the game Scolari declared that the Selecao hero has already proven himself as one of the best in the game: “Neymar is a player that we all know is one of the top three in the world, and at 21-years-old. It is fantastic. Now is the time to show all the quality displayed at Santos in the Confederations Cup, then the World Cup.”
It may have been Neymar’s greatest night for the Canarinha, but it is another result that masks the team’s shortcomings. With Italy awaiting them and potentially Spain, Brazil will not be able to rely solely upon the 21-year-old to guide them past more formidable outfits in this competition or at next year’s World Cup.