On 19 June 2013, Brazilian starlet and football’s clown prince, Neymar, became a star. And, if ever they needed extra reason to dream, Brazil fans now have something tangible to pin their 2014 World Cup dreams on after a Neymar-inspired 2-0 win over CONCACAF champions, Mexico, at Fortelaza.
The upcoming World Cup itself is shrouded in controversy. Escalating costs, late, shoddy construction work and, as always, corruption has prompted brave and striking protests in the land of football.
Some Brazilians are publicly pleading with the rest of the world to stay away from FIFA’s showpiece tournament. In one dashing and creative move, Neymar undermined their case.
Up until now, Neymar’s myth has been built on Youtube clips and South American football highlights, which showed breathtaking dribbles and flair as well as the acceleration and sublime finishes. In live action for Brazil, though, he often looked more mortal.
Against Japan on the weekend, Neymar got the first goal of the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup with a stunning right footed volley. And, five minutes into today’s fixture, he did it again—only with his left foot this time.
But it wasn’t his volleying that caught global attention and started a bidding war between Real Madrid and Barcelona, which the latter won a month ago. It was his seemingly extemporaneous ability to improvise when cornered by hulking defenders.
And, in stoppage time, the opportunity presented itself. Neymar dribbled the ball casually down the left flank and, as he neared the touchline, he slowed and leaned slightly to face his trackers, Mexico captain Francisco Rodriguez and right back Hiram Mier.
Neymar shifted weight to his right as if to take on Rodriguez but quickly pulled the back with the sole of his foot in the opposite direction. Mier was suddenly called upon to act decisively. But, before he could come to terms with the challenge, Neymar had chopped the ball with his left foot through his legs. He glided between the two defenders as though they were cones.
And now for “the prestige.”
It is not enough to embarrass one or even two players; Neymar must show that his trickery was not self-indulgent but a weapon which could help Brazil win games and, yes, even the game’s most coveted prize.
And so Neymar slowed again inside the penalty box, weighed his options in a flash and played a precise pass to teammate Jo at the far post. The ball came with a slightly awkward hop and Jo showed good composure and technique to get over it and produce a decisive finish for his second goal in as many matches.
Neymar got the plaudits though.
FIFA chief Sepp Blatter, Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff and everyone else with a stake in the 2014 World Cup might have breathed a sigh of relief. For football fans, it was a moment to treasure; the confirmation of a rare talent like Pele’s flick and volley against Sweden, Diego Maradona’s outrageous solo goal against England or David Beckham’s halfline strike against Wimbledon.
There were raised eyebrows when Brazil coach Luis Scolari selected a team without veteran stars Ronaldinho and Kaka. If ever there was ever any doubt, we now know that Neymar does not need a babysitter; just a support staff.
Editor’s note: Follow the Confederations Cup action live on DIRECTV by clicking here