After the departure of two of the world’s best footballers in recent times, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, on the first day of the last 16 of the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia, the focus shifted to Brazilian star Neymar, who is thought to be the next big thing in world football.
Having made a good start in the World Cup after a three and a half month of break due to injury, the PSG sensation showed glimpses of his return to form in the last two group stage games, against Costa Rica and Serbia registering a goal and an assist respectively.
But before the Round of 16 match against Mexico, he was under quite a bit of pressure as it was Philippe Coutinho who was undoubtedly Brazil’s most effective performer in the group stage.
However, in the much-anticipated knockout game against Mexico, and after being overshadowed by El Tri attackers Hirving Lozano, Carlos Vela and Javier “Chicharito” Harnandez in the first half, Neymar rose to the occasion when the Selecao needed him the most.
A good period of attacking play resulted in the Selecao bagging the much-awaited goal in the 51st minute. A sliding Neymar thumped home a Willian pass. The 41, 970 crowd was divided into contrasting emotions after the goal.
While Brazil fans were celebrating wildly, the El Tri fans were egging their players to come back to the game. The goal somewhat changed the momentum of the game as Brazil started playing attacking football and Mexico opted for counterattacks.
Though he was denied an official assist, Neymar individually set up the second goal for substitute Roberto Firmino in the dying stages to seal the game for Brazil. Two minutes before the end of stipulated time, Neymar ran with the ball from the left side and his attempt was deflected intentionally by goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. But it created an opening in front of the net for Firmino.
Neymar has now been directly involved in 20 goals in his last 19 appearances for Brazil, featuring 11 goals and nine assists. In total, the former Barcelona footballer had a hand in 91 goals in 89 appearances for Brazil, scoring 57 and assisting 34. If he continues at this rate, the 26-year old will easily surpass the legendary Brazilian Pele’e 77-goal record in the yellow jersey by the next two years.
Ronaldo has enjoyed the memes, but insists Neymar's theatrics are not important. pic.twitter.com/6EZfAbTl9L— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 4, 2018
Despite his contributions, Neymar often loves to be at the centre of controversies, and attention, and the Mexico clash was no different. Before and after the match, he was heavily criticised by the Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio, players, fans and journalists.
His overacting on the football field often creates pressure on referees to give decisions in his favour. At the 70-minute mark, Neymar fell just on the edge of the Brazil dugout. After Mexican defender Miguel Layun grabbed his leg, the situation only got worse. In the replays it was later seen that Layun stepped on Neymar’s leg while taking the ball.
In the game against Serbia, Neymar also overreacted after suffering a foul that caught the attention of people across the world. To Neymar’s disadvantage however, real fouls against him are denied by the referee often as his play-acting works in favour of the opposition.
Neymar is a great asset for Brazil and world football. Following the departures of Messi and Ronaldo, Neymar has even more attention on him. His silly acts however, will surely work against him. It’s time Neymar finally realises this and do what he really does best, play football and exhibit mind-blowing ball skills.