Neymar set for return to England
Tuesday 29 March 2011
Neymar, the next Brazilian sensation, will be playing in England next summer - whether he signs for a Premier League club or not.
The teenager with the barmy barnet and twinkling feet, who lit up the Emirates on Sunday, may sign for a club in west London or Manchester this summer, but there will be fierce competition from Italy and Spain. Barring injury he will, though, be on these shores for the 2012 Olympic tournament.
Many in the UK believe professional footballers have no place in the Olympics, and the Football Associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are determined none of theirs will be involved in next summer’s tournament, but the globe’s greatest soccer nation are keen indeed.
Despite reaching the semi-final in five of the last nine competitions Brazil have never won Olympic gold, a failing they are determined to put right. Mano Menezes, who coaches both the senior and Olympic team, said Sunday’s defeat of Scotland was part of the build-up to the tournament. Neymar, Lucas, Leandro Damiao and Tottenham’s Sandro, who all featured on Sunday, plus Manchester United’s Rafael and Milan’s Alexandre Pato are all likely to be included in a squad which will be the overwhelming favourites – not least because holders Argentina are out. Lucas Leiva of Liverpool, and Chelsea’s Ramires, may well be included as two of the three permitted over-age players as they both have Olympic experience having reached the semi-finals in Beijing 2008 (where a Brazilian team including Ronaldinho lost to an Argentine one including Lionel Messi – Lucas Leiva was dismissed for kicking Javier Mascherano).
Brazil will be the hot ticket in the 2012 tournament (unless, perhaps, GB call up David Beckham) but unfortunately for would-be spectators ticket sales are ‘blind’. By the time all the qualifiers are known, and the draw is made, all may be sold.
Anyone that does get a ticket to Brazil will be fortunate indeed for Sunday’s match confirmed Menezes has restored the jogo bonito. “I want the team to play in the image Brazilians expect their team to play,” he said after Scotland had been forced to chase for 90 minutes. With the central midfielders allowed to break forward as well as the full-backs Menezes Brazil were more attractive to watch than that Dunga took to the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup.
Whether the transformation survives prolonged contact with stronger opposition remains to be seen. The new team has already lost to France and Argentina, and Menezes will be under pressure to deliver at the Copa America this summer. It does, though, have plenty of talent, not least in Neymar who will cost £30m-plus should he leave Santos this summer.
The one caveat about him concerned his readiness to go to ground. That angered the Tartan Army and appears to have led to what seems an erroneous allegation that he was racially abused.
The SFA were angered by the accusation made by Neymar and Lucas Leiva who look to have mis-construed the presence of a banana on the pitch, and the jeering of Neymar, as evidence of racism.
An SFA statement said: "The Scottish FA refutes claims from Neymar that he was the victim of racist jeers," adding fans had booed him "for perceived unsporting behaviour."
Police match commander Mark Sheeran said: "The Scottish fans' behaviour was first class. There were no issues at all inside the stadium."
The SFA says it will contact the Brazilian Football Federation and the match organisers, Kentaro, to inform them of Sheeran's comments and of supporters' widespread unhappiness at the accusations.
Anecdotal evidence, which is impossible to confirm, suggested the banana was thrown by a Brazilian fan in celebration at Neymar’s successful spot kick. It did come from a part of the ground mainly populated by Braziiian fans. Furthermore were anyone present indulging in racist behaviour it seems unlikely it would be directly solely at the relatively light-skinned Neymar when the much darker Ramires received no abuse.
On the playing side, though Scotland were outclassed, Craig Levein insisted the week as a whole, which included a training camp in La Manga, Spain, had been ‘great’.
"We've managed to spend a bit of time together and you could see how much they wanted to try for each other," the Scotland manager said. "This whole week was about bonding, getting together, understanding each other, getting to know each other. You saw that on the pitch.”
Levein added that the younger players who were involved, like Aston Villa’s Barry Bannan and debutant Craig Mackail-Smith, would benefit from the experience of playing in an occasion such as Sunday’s.
Levein is likely to experiment further – not least because of he inevitable player withdrawals – in the forthcoming Carling Nations Cup matches against Wales and the Republic of Ireland in Dublin in May. Come September, however, he will hope to have several key players back for a brace of home Euro 2012 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Lithuania.
"These are the games that are the important ones and we'll be ready for those," he said. "We'll get Steven Naismith, Darren Fletcher, Jamie Mackie, Graham Dorrans and others back into the team. That's a quality group of players.”
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