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22 Jun 2018

Brazil: Switch off the Neymar show and catalyse your country

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MVP or MIA

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Fighting fitness

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A piece of the Brazilian jigsaw

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Focusing on glory

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Promising signs

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Modern football is brimming with carefully manicured brands.

The game has become soaked with high-profile players striving to reach the pinnacle of their profession and amongst them is Neymar, a 26-year-old limelight-lover who has genuine reasons to stake his name to such a moniker.

It was 15 months ago that Neymar produced enough magic to lift Barcelona from a 4-0 deficit against Paris Saint-Germain.

REUTERS/Henry Romero

Since then, there has been little but fleeting glimpses of this wizardry, again, much to the chagrin of the Parisians, whom he joined months after dumping them out of Europe.

With the World Cup building momentum towards its defining stages, now is the time for players to step up their performances. The first few teams have already fallen from the competition and scrutiny will fall harder on the players with which expectations lie.

With Neymar heavily criticised in the Brazilian press following the opening match, can he light up the tournament in the coming games?

MVP or MIA

The Standard set at this World Cup by Cristiano Ronaldo has been nothing short of exceptional. The Portuguese forward may not have dazzled with the best performances of his career, however, he’s delivered exactly what his country have needed.

Forwards are primarily judged on their goals and it’s a currency which Neymar is hardly a pauper. His 55 international goals from 86 appearances has him on course to rival Ronaldo’s 85 goals from 152 appearances.

REUTERS/Henry Romero

Having scored four times in Brazil’s previous World Cup campaign, Brazil are rightfully looking to their number ten to deliver.

Whilst Brazil faced a deceptively tricky opening match against Switzerland, they failed to impress either collectively or individually.

Over-expectations are nothing new to South American football, though, and Neymar should thrive under the pressure if he’s truly to become a great in the modern game.

Fighting fitness

The build-up to Brazil’s second match has been marred by stories of Neymar’s right ankle. This is the same ankle that was injured in a match against Marseille last March, resulting in the forward requiring surgery.

After playing 174 minutes in the two international games since making his return, the story being fed to the media paints this as an unrelated injury.

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Neymar was fouled ten times by the Swiss in Sunday’s opening encounter for the Selecao, one of which, apparently, is the sole cause for precautionary measures taken in this week’s training sessions.

Following Mohamed Salah’s subdued performance against Russia on Tuesday evening, the dangers of playing when not at full-fitness are as clear as ever.

If there is any genuine concern lingering with Neymar’s ankle, the Costa Rica fixture is the perfect opportunity for him to rest for the more important games which lie in wait.

A piece of the Brazilian jigsaw

Tite has forged a strong Brazilian team largely through promoting team ethic above any star player. The 23-man squad was long established before those of other nations, yet the opening match saw their forwards trying too hard to impress by themselves.

If Brazil are to live up to their potential as favourites and win this tournament, they will need to revert to the underlying foundations which Tite has put in place.

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

With Neymar often finding himself marked by two or more players, this leaves spaces and players free elsewhere on the pitch which can be exploited. 

Against Switzerland, Neymar fell into a Sisyphean trap of trying to skip foul tackles and dribble his team to glory. He was by no means the only player in the side who took this approach, but more nous is required if they’re to excel in Russia.

Focusing on glory

Perhaps the biggest disappointment with Neymar’s performance against the Swiss was the mental aspects of his game. Further to poor decision-making, he failed to maintain emotional detachment from his game.

The one aspect in football which the current Brazil team often struggle with is physicality. Tite argued the equalising goal should have been disallowed for a foul, however, it was far from being a clear-cut penalty.

REUTERS/Darren Staples

While Neymar may have become the most-fouled player during the last 20 years of World Cup matches, he allowed Switzerland’s tactics to derail his team’s own game.

Too many times he tried to win his own personal battle, which effectively slowed down Brazilian attacks.

Promising signs

Despite this, there were more positives than negatives in his game. Considering he has not played very much football over the last three months, Neymar did not look lacking in match sharpness.

He is also an integral part of a team playing a long-established style. Tite may have tried to remove some of their reliance on Neymar, but he remains a key component in a team designed to get the best out of their star.

With Costa Rica next up, Neymar will once more be fully expected to turn on the style and inspire the team to their first win in Russia.

The following game against a physically-rugged Serbia will perhaps be more telling as to how he will perform in the latter stages though.

Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 7 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.