Hamish Bond and Eric Murray have already broken a world record in the men’s pairs rowing, and Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield could dazzle in men’s 10m synchronised diving tomorrow.
But there is no more exciting combination of athletes at the Olympic games than Neymar and Oscar, the two brilliant Brazilian footballers who orchestrated the 3-1 defeat of Belarus today which confirmed their passage into the quarter-finals.
The performance was similar to that which beat Egypt 3-2 at the Millennium Stadium: avoidable goals conceded, spells of lost focus, but, most importantly, some of most imaginative and enjoyable football seen anywhere in 2012, the best of it led by Oscar and Neymar. That pair of 20-year-old talents should, if nothing goes dramatically wrong, win the gold medal for Brazil at Wembley Stadium on 11 August.
If there was one difference between yesterday’s performance at Old Trafford and the one at the Millenium Stadium last Thursday, it is that Neymar, rather than Oscar, took the lead role. He made the first goal for Alexandre Pato, scored the second with a brilliant free-kick before creating the delightful third for Oscar in added time. Against Egypt it had been the new Chelsea signing who provided two assists, with Neymar scoring once.
But yesterday it was the man from Santos who was the star. He sent Brazil back into the game after they had surprisingly conceded an early goal. Just eight minutes in, the Brazilian-born Renan Bressan Bardini headed Belarus into the lead from Aleksei Kozlov’s well-judged cross which right-back s Rafael chose to ignore.
It was a good cross, but better was to come seven minutes later when Brazil equalised. Neymar had the ball on the left but with a defender close to him. With a dip of a shoulder he crafted himself enough space to float a perfect cross for Pato to head in.
Once level Brazil struggled to raise themselves to the required level, creating little of note in the rest of the first half. After the break they improved, with Marcelo, Neymar and Oscar all testing Belarus goalkeeper Aleksandr Gutor.
And 20 minutes into the second half Neymar scored the goal which put Brazil ahead. He was cut down 30 yards from goal and a free-kick was awarded. Hulk had earlier put one into the wall and so this one was for Neymar, and he whipped the ball into the far top corner.
Neymar could well have scored a second, 11 minutes from time. He took the ball on the left hand side and beat four defenders using a combination of pace, strength and flair before being crudely stopped by an Igor Kuzmenok tackle.
In stoppage time Neymar advanced in the same direction, this time beating Kuzmenok and Sergei Politevich. But instead of trying to score his second he played a reverse pass with his back-heel through to Oscar, running down the left. Oscar clipped the ball into the top corner into the top corner. They still have to play New Zealand on Wednesday but it is impossible not to consider them strong favourites for gold.
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