World Cup 2014: Neymar hoping to emulate the greats as Brazil prepare to take on Croatia

There is much pressure on the Barcelona striker's shoulders, but you wouldn't know it

Felipe Scolari smiled widely, before reaching to give Neymar a little smack. The young forward had been talking about the greats of Brazil’s recent past, and how he wants to emulate the likes of Romario and - above all - Ronaldo at this World Cup.

LIVE: Follow the latest events from Brazil v Croatia and the Opening Ceremony

It was also a sudden break with the party line, given that Neymar had spent the press conference’s previous 15 minutes insisting that individual accolades do not matter to him. Up to then, the Barcelona attacker had expertly echoed his manager’s preachings about the importance of the collective: “Nobody plays alone. We are 11 players on the pitch and others on the bench.”

You wouldn’t guess that from the overbearing attention on Neymar in the build-up, not least in the media exchange on the eve of the opening game against Croatia. He is the country’s great hope, the team’s defining player.

If Brazil as a whole are expected to bury the ghosts of the World Cup defeat to Uruguay in 1950, Neymar is explicitly charged with driving them to that victory by replicating the legends of the past. It was a common theme of the build-up. It is also quite a burden for a mere 22-year-old.

You wouldn’t have guess that, however, from his demeanour. Neymar wavered between outright bullishness and innate breeziness, switching from declarations that Brazil would definitely win to jokes with his manager.

It was also that sense of relaxation that led to his slight slip, and revealed one of the remaining issues with his game and career. Just as Neymar could not continue to deny he has personal ambitions at this tournament, he cannot yet eradicate an erratic individualism to his game. It was one cause of an underwhelming first season with Barcelona (along with a whole lot of controversy about his transfer) and something Scolari has clearly been working hard to counter.

The Brazilian manager knows such a young man is seen as a symbol, but wants that to work in a more beneficial way, for both himself and the team. Scolari wants Neymar to be a symbol in a different way, the ultimate example of how everyone is prepared to compromise themselves for the collective.

“He doesn’t specialise in marking but sometimes he does try, in order to give his contribution to the whole team.”

That message is all the more important given that the Brazil camp are so clearly attempting to include the country’s various protestors, and preach a spirit of togetherness.

 

Of course, there’s one way that Neymar can start to do that today against Croatia: by scoring or setting up the goal that unites so many in joy.

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