Tuesday 18 December 2018

Carrying weight of a nation taking its toll on Neymar

Neymar celebrates Brazil's victory after the match against Costa Rica. Photo: Lee Smith/Reuters
Neymar celebrates Brazil's victory after the match against Costa Rica. Photo: Lee Smith/Reuters

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Neymar scored with the last kick of this game and after the celebrations had finished, when the final whistle went, he fell to his knees, head in both hands, shaking with the force of his own tears.

Utterly oblivious to the Costa Ricans around him trying to shake his hand, he sat down on the ground, legs outstretched, looking like a man in no mood to get up. It took Fernandinho, Miranda and Gabriel Jesus to console him and drag him up to his feet.

It was the emotional climax of another emotional afternoon for Neymar, a player whose own personal psychodrama is swiftly becoming one of the central stories of this World Cup.

Is he going to be to Brazil what Cristiano Ronaldo is to Portugal, converting expectation into motivation and carrying the team on his shoulders?

Or is he going to be what Lionel Messi now is for Argentina, a man finally buckling under that weight, not inspired but so crushed that he now looks unrecognisable?

The truth is somewhere in between. Neymar, unlike Messi, has a goal to his name now, tapping in Douglas Costa's 97th-minute cross to kill a game that Philippe Coutinho had effectively won seven minutes before.

And Neymar, unlike Messi, is likely to still be here in the knock-out rounds. Brazil should still be favourites to win Group G, even though they were not at their best again yesterday, looking restricted and anxious as ever.

Because before Neymar and Coutinho's two added-time goals, it was a long 90 minutes of frustration for Brazil, up against a Costa Rica side pulling out every trick to stop them and slow them down. And for Neymar it had been an afternoon of extreme exasperation.

Tite has spoken about players taking responsibility and here Neymar looked so desperate to do that, to win the game for Brazil by himself, that when it did not work he barely knew how to react.

That is why his added-time goal - a meaningless goal in the scheme of things - was so important. Because for the 20 minutes up until then he had looked like a broken man, one who had just had the moment he had dreamed of stolen away from him. Stolen by a man in a referee's uniform watching on a TV screen upstairs.

Because Neymar had thought, if only for less than a minute, that he was going to win this game himself.

It had been another long afternoon getting kicked, and it was still 0-0 with 12 minutes left, but he would have his reward, and Costa Rica would have their punishment.

Penalty

Bjorn Kuipers had finally awarded him a penalty, his moment to beat Keylor Navas and win Brazil the game. He celebrated with a little hug with Coutinho before picking up the ball, ready to deliver justice.

But this is the 2018 World Cup, where no decision is final. The pause was ominously long and sure enough, VAR intervened. Kuipers consulted his colleagues, ran back over and reversed his decision. Neymar was denied his penalty, and in his mind, denied his justice.

It was probably the correct decision on balance; the initial award of the penalty felt harsh on Costa Rica.

He got his goal at the end but there is still a sense, two games in, that this brilliant player has yet to fully deliver for his team. And no-one will feel that stronger than he does. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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