Tuesday, February 20, 2018

WORLD CUP 2014: Neymar, the man for Brazil


MARKSMAN: Brazil's Neymar, left, celebrates his second goal on a penalty kick during the group A World Cup match against Croatia, in the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, today. Brazil won the World Cup opener 3-1. Photo: AP

Kwame Laurence


Inevitably, it was all about Neymar. Nobody lives up to expectations like the young Brazil forward.

On the day he got his 50th cap, Neymar was once again the star of the show, scoring Brazil's first and second goals in their 3-1 opening day win over Croatia.

They were his fifth and sixth goals in his last four Brazil games and take his international total to 33. Only Pele scored 30 in so few games.

Neymar began the Group A match quietly, but was never hesitant or overawed like some of his team mates. Although Brazil went a goal down, he was always probing for an equalizer.

When it came, he was lucky to be on the field. In the 27th minute he elbowed Croatia midfielder Luka Modric in the throat and was fortunate only to get a yellow card.

But he survived and was there to pick up a loose ball just outside the center circle a few moments later.

Neymar advanced, dragged the ball on to his left foot and his shot, while slightly mis-hit, was so perfectly placed that Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa could not get a fingertip to it, even at full stretch.

In the second half Neymar was the man Brazil turned to in the key moment of the match. Fred threw himself to the ground, won a penalty, and Neymar had no hesitation in stepping up.

It was no surprise. Neymar got his first caps wearing the No. 11 shirt but asked to have the storied No. 10 jersey before last year's Confederations Cup.

It was a significant gesture that said, 'I am ready to take on the responsibility that once sat on the shoulders of Pele, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo.' He is mature beyond his 22 years.

Again, Pletikosa was unlucky. He got a hand to Neymar's spot kick but there was enough power behind the shot to ensure the ball hit the net.

The local hero was taken off seven minutes from time to a standing ovation from the home fans. It was a job well done. Inevitably.