Brazil vs South Korea: Winners prove they do not need Neymar, even with him on the pitch


“I feel good, I knew that I would now,” declared Neymar to his 189 million Instagram followers on the eve of this last-16 victory over South Korea, alongside images of him taking part in a Brazil training session. That’s a James Brown lyric, in case you hadn’t noticed, and it was a more than appropriate reference. We are, after all, talking about one of the hardest working men in showbusiness – the most heavily-sponsored footballer in the world no less, as evidenced by his appearance on every billboard in Doha that does not already bear the image of David Beckham.

But then this is also a natural born performer who, at his best, through his various thrusts, swerves and flourishes, is capable of leaving his audience in raptures. And not unlike the godfather of soul, just as his act is reaching a crescendo, as the crowd is approaching a point of near evangelical adulation, he has been known to suddenly collapse to the ground, thrash about in a state of pain, exhaustion and distress, and then exit stage left as a frail, broken man with the help of a handler. The parallels do not end there, either. Did you know James Brown campaigned for Richard Nixon?

Yet there is a difference and it is a key one: Brown would always eventually return to the stage rejuvenated, with 10-times the vigour of the man escorted off, and when he did, he never left his audience disappointed. Despite several attempts at similar resurrections, it has not always been possible to say the same of Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior – not when this is his third attempt at leading Brazil to a sixth World Cup trophy, not when the previous two ended with a fractured back and began with a broken foot respectively.

This time, it was his ankle. His right ankle to be precise, which swelled to the size of two golf balls and had to be wrapped up in protective casing following his early exit from Brazil’s opening win over Serbia. Given that the injury that hampered his World Cup performances four years ago partially affected the same ankle, the prognosis that he could return during these knockout stages felt optimistic at best. At a tournament where two-thirds of the forward line at the Qatari state’s other football project have starred, Neymar risked becoming a side note.

And yet, here he was, 11 minutes in, standing over a penalty after Jung Woo-young’s light brushing of Richarlison’s ankles. Raphinha had been ready with the ball in his hands, apparently expecting a reward for having effectively created Brazil’s first out of nothing, but he would be disappointed. The crowd at Stadium 974 had other ideas. A few seconds of chanting Neymar’s name in unison forced Raphinha to hand the ball over. Once he had taken it and placed it on the spot, his run-up was stuttered, the strike a feather’s touch, rolled into the net as goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu’s knees buckled beneath him.

Everything appeared set up for the type of resurrection that has not followed his previous World Cup injury setbacks and if it did not quite reach those divine heights, Neymar played well enough. Outside of the penalty, there were the usual flights of fancy. Neymar at one stage found himself closed down by not just Korea’s Hwang In-beom and Cho Gue-sung but also the referee Clement Turpin. He spun past all three, rouletting away and bursting on the attack. It was his personal highlight of a game where you could tell he felt good. He knew that he would. And for that reason, he was always going to play.

Did he have to, though? And did Brazil need him to? That is a different question. Neymardependência is a word that is easily translated into English and has been used so often in Brazil over the past decade that it might have come close to earning a place in its dictionaries. The states of blind panic that have met Neymar’s fitness problems – of which the manic rendition of the national anthem before the 7-1 defeat by Germany in 2014 is the best example – have become a familiar trope for those who only pay close attention every four years.

Yet as Brazil established their total superiority during an extraordinary first half, surging into a 4-0 lead, it was notable how minor his role was in the other three goals. Neymar was officially credited with the assist for the first, though that was generous at best, given how he had been attempting to convert Raphinha’s cross, not deflect it into the path of Vinicius Junior. For the brilliant third, started and finished by Richarlison, several Brazilian players flocked to him in celebration despite him being a bystander. The cross to Lucas Paqueta for the fourth flew directly over his head.

The penalty was Neymar’s 76th goal for Brazil, one off equalling Pelé as the Selecao’s all-time leading goalscorer. He will break that record sooner or later and if he breaks it at some point over the next fortnight or so, while concerns for the health of arguably the greatest player of all time abound, it will add a certain significance to both his journey through this World Cup and Brazil’s, too. Yet to watch how the array of attacking talent that now surrounds Neymar dismantled South Korea was to witness a team no longer in thrall to a single icon, no longer dependent on any individual.

Neymar is back, apparently injury free, and may finally lead his teammates all the way. But if he limps off the stage frail and broken again, Brazil can be confident that success at this tournament will not be defined by whether he comes back on.

#Brazil #South #Korea #Winners #prove #Neymar #pitch

Click to rate this post!
[Total: 0 Average: 0]