Brazil 3 Croatia 1 comment: Neymar is the player charged with replicating previous greats to drive Brazil to glory

The 22-year-old scored a double as the hosts began with a victory

If the 2014 World Cup is truly to be Neymar’s stage, he stepped on to it in the most commanding fashion. The Brazilian player who carries by far the greatest responsibility did not shirk the challenge. He repeatedly threw down his own.

There may be qualms about much of the rest of Brazil’s performance, but there could be none about Neymar. Sure, he was fortunate to get away with the appalling elbow on Nikica Jelavic, but that only served to illustrate the defiant anger that was so crucial to this display.

Few great players, after all, lack that menace. Neymar finally began to show he belongs with such company. This could be the match that properly propels his tournament and career. He certainly produced an electric moment, one of those that made the stadium, the hairs stand up, and then brought an explosion.

MATCH REPORT: BRAZIL 3 CROATIA 1

It also said much that, after driving the ball into the net on the half-hour, the Barcelona forward eschewed his usual God-like, arms-out celebration. Here, there were only will and drive. There was no need for any pretension. This was the real deal.

 

At that point, with Brazil 1-0 down to Marcelo’s early own goal, it certainly came across that Neymar understood the enormity of the situation for his side. That is all the more admirable when he consider the personal stakes for the youngster. Neymar does find himself in a scarcely believable situation, and one that most players would struggle with, let alone 22-year-olds.

This, after all, is not quite the Brazil of Ronaldo-Rivaldo-Ronaldinho or even Romario-Bebeto. He is effectively the sole star in a much more mundane outfit. That could be seen in the stuttering nature of so many of their attacks – at least when Neymar and Oscar were not on the ball. This was not the fluency of old from manager Luiz Felipe Scolari’s forward line.

As such, Neymar carries quite a weight for a country with such tradition.

If Brazil are expected to bury the ghosts of 1950 and finally win the World Cup at home, he is the player charged with actually replicating previous greats and driving them to the Maracana and glory.

The weight of so many legacies – from Pele to Garrincha – is on that distinctively coiffured head, let alone 200 million people.

Neymar-3.jpgIt did not seem to affect him, except in the proactive sense. Neymar justified the striking and almost overbearing confidence he had displayed in the pre-match press conference, but without the previous breeziness. Here, there was only a brisk sense of business.

Even before his team went behind, Neymar was displaying an urgency, constantly getting on the ball, demanding it. That only escalated after the opening goal.

He began really to run at Croatia, to cause them proper problems. For his part, Oscar was a willing supporting act, with a series of fine passes.

 

Neymar’s defining moment, though, was all his own. On 29 minutes, with his team in trouble, and the player himself apparently succumbing to frustration after the incident with Jelavic, he fully subjected Croatia to that anger.

Neymar picked up the ball, powered at their back line, and picked his spot precisely. It was a commendable and almost contradictory combination of rage, emotion and cool calculation.

That did not continue indefinitely, it must be said. There was still some loose passing, a few untidy touches. Beyond that, there were also occasions of the more erratic individualism that has repeatedly raised such longer-term questions over Neymar.

The point, however, is he did not hide – in any sense.

That was certainly true of his second strike, as he again stepped up, this time to the spot. It wasn’t as precise as his first effort, and the decision to give the penalty in the first place for Fred’s dive was wrong, but it produced the desired effect. As did Neymar’s entire performance.

The rest of the stage awaits.

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