Brazil’s star man finally arrived in Russia with a superb showing against Mexico as the Selecao avoided the fate of some of their biggest rivals
The 2018 World Cup has been one of huge shocks. We are still in the first knockout round, yet champions Germany, Spain, Argentina and Portugal have already fallen, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have also returned home.
Neymar and favourites Brazil were the next giants to take to the stage as they tackled Mexico in Samara, but the Selecao put on an authoritative display to win 2-0 as the Paris Saint-Germain star finally burst into life.
A metatarsal injury meant that Neymar came into the World Cup having played no club football since the end of February and it showed during a disappointing group stage where he was criticised for his perceived showboating and playacting.
There were worries from outside the camp that this competition could pass Neymar by, just as it had for other superstars like Messi.
However, Brazil’s star man finally awoke from his slumber against Mexico with a match-winning display.
He scored the opening goal at the Cosmos Stadium as his brilliant back heel to Willian bamboozled El Tri’s defence, allowing the Chelsea man to tee Neymar up for a simple finish at the back post.
Neymar then set up the second in the closing minutes by beating the Mexico offside trap and flicking the ball goalwards before substitute Roberto Firmino tapped home from close range.
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio did all he could to control the 26-year-old as his right-back Edson Alvarez back was given a first-half education, matching up against the world’s most expensive player.
The 20-year-old did well in the opening stages when Mexico were the better team. But an outstanding piece of skill by Neymar down the left midway through the first half left Alvarez for dead and galvanised a Brazil side who then took charge.
Osorio was forced to change his right-back to Miguel Layun but the veteran couldn’t control Neymar in the second period, with the attacker’s interplay with Willian irrepressible at times. The Chelsea man also enjoyed a fantastic match having struggled in the groups as well.
Layun became frustrated by Neymar’s brilliance, even deliberately stepping on the superstar’s ankle off the ball, but fortunately escaped punishment. Neymar, true to form, exaggerated the foul.
Neymar holds huge unfulfilled ambitions to become one of his country’s and the game’s greatest ever players. He wants to win the World Cup and then also earn a Ballon d’Or, which has been dominated for the past decade by Messi and Ronaldo.
Winning the World Cup would be the best chance Neymar has of lifting the Golden Ball and, as things stand, Brazil look a good bet to challenge for the title in Russia.
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Neymar now has 15 goals in 16 games for club and country this year, showing exactly why Tite has persisted with him in this World Cup, despite below-par performances against Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia.
He is edging closer to Pele’s national team goalscoring record after he netted his 57th goal in 89 appearances, putting him just 20 behind the all-time great.
Most importantly, though, Neymar has finally arrived in Russia, while Messi, Ronaldo and so many major nations have already returned home.