Neymar: Assessing His Performance for Brazil vs. Belarus
The headlines really say it all about Neymar. One day after Mano Menezes admitted that Neymar had been recently struggling to impress with Brazil, Neymar was heralded as the star of Brazil's win over Belarus by the AFP, The Independent and the Associated Press, among others.
And in truth, Neymar deserved all the praise. For all those who have ever claimed that Neymar was all hype, or that he couldn't perform on a big stage, this was Neymar coming forward and proving them all wrong.
Yes, it was against lowly Belarus, a team that Brazil shouldn't have any problem dispatching in normal circumstances, but if there's anything that we've learned about the 2012 Summer Olympics so far, it's that any team is capable of pulling an upset against anyone.
With Spain losing to Japan and Honduras, and Uruguay losing 2-0 to Senegal, the Olympics have shown that U-23 Olympic football is highly unpredictable.
Belarus had already beaten New Zealand going into this game, and when they scored early off a well-placed header by Renan Bressan, it was clear that they weren't going to be put away quietly.
That's when Neymar stepped up.
Neymar's first contribution of the game was simple, yet effective; with a couple of touches, he left the ball perfectly in between Belarus' defenders, leaving Alexander Pato with the relatively simple task of meeting the ball and directing it into the net. Seven minutes after conceding to Belarus, Brazil were level, 1-1.
It took Brazil 50 more minutes to find the goal that would put them into the lead. Belarus held on for the remainder of the first half after conceding to Pato, and for the first 20 minutes of the second half, they were winning the battle to take a point from this game. Then Neymar stepped up once again.
With his typical trickery and fancy footwork, Neymar earned a free kick 25 yards from goal and proceeded to take it himself, curling and bending it perfectly out of Aleksandr Gutor's reach. There was no run-up or Cristiano Ronaldo power stance for this free kick; Neymar calmly placed his left foot, swung with his right, and bam: Brazil were 2-1 up in a moment of brilliance.
Neymar's third contribution on the night was the proverbial icing on the cake. In the 93rd minute, with Brazil already heading to victory, Neymar decided that a 2-1 win wasn't convincing enough for his country.
He tortured three of Belarus' defenders by forcing them to keep up with his pace and dribbling, then left them all for dead with a gorgeous reverse pass that new Chelsea signing Oscar easily dispatched.
And that was that. 3-1 for Brazil and a guaranteed spot in the knockout rounds to face Group C's runner-up, who will likely be Honduras, the plucky side that downed Spain 1-0 earlier tonight.
For Neymar, rated by many as the best U-21 talent in the world and a potential contender for the title FIFA World Player of the Year in the future, there's still plenty of work to be done. Anything less than a place in the final would be considered a failure by many, and some even believe it's gold or bust for the Samba boys.
But in the meantime, at least for the next few days, Neymar can rejoice and be pleased with his work. His haters can having nothing to say after one of the top performances of the tournament thus far.
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