Assessing Neymar's Contribution for Brazil in Confederations Cup Group Stages
In the build up to the Confederations Cup earlier this month, there was only one story—the impending transfer of Neymar to Barcelona, and the young star's apparent inability to perform against top international opposition.
Three games into the tournament, however, and the tide of public perception outside of Brazil has already noticeably changed, with the young Santos-produced star having been named Man of the Match in all three appearances thus far.
The only way to answer your critics is with performances on the pitch, and that is exactly what Neymar has done. From being "over-hyped" just a week ago, the general opinion of him across the footballing world has taken a sizeable swing in his favour.
It is no surprise, either. For the most part, those who had formed an opinion of the youngster outside of Brazil were doing so on the basis of a mere handful of matches. It is only fair to say, then, that these three recent fixtures cannot be used to say that he is already a world-beater. He is not.
What he is, though, is a potentially great player who has incredible natural gifts, but is still learning his trade as a professional footballer. He has achieved much in South American football, but still has greater heights to scale in his career.
The Confederations Cup, though, has thus far offered a great platform from which to launch his career in Europe. He will now arrive at Barcelona having relieved himself of much of the pressure that has surrounded him for the past six months.
He may not have been in the best of form this year, but it is little surprise given the intense scrutiny that his performances and future have been under. A goal just three minutes into the tournament's opening fixture helped vanquish the demons that had been weighing him down of late, and he has not looked back since.
The beauty of Neymar's contributions in the tournament have been their simplicity. He is no longer attempting to over elaborate as he was in recent friendlies, with no need to attempt to play himself into form.
While he is blessed with a catalogue of tricks and skills, Neymar has always performed best when he simplifies his game. Yes, he has still pulled off some wondrous moments of individual brilliance, but he is not attempting to do so every time he receives the ball.
His goals will obviously claim the headlines, but it must also be recognised that he has been excellent in general play. Brazil's tactical changes have seen them look to pressure opponents and play swiftly on the counter attack—a setup that plays very much to their star's strengths.
While he did not have his best game from open play against Italy on Saturday, he did also show off another often-overlooked side to his game—set-piece taking. A wonderful, low curled free-kick helped Brazil restore their lead in the second period, but it had also been a Neymar delivery that had directly led to Dante's opening goal.
Like all the best players in football, he has the ways and means to profoundly influence games even when well-marked by opponents. Like any young player, he will have runs of good and bad form, but he has always continued to notch up goals and assists in abundance throughout his career.
It appears, despite the need to iron out some persistent problems with the balance of the midfield pivot, as though head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has finally found a setup that utilises Brazil's better players effectively.
Within the 4-2-3-1 system, Neymar is the wildcard. While Hulk sticks to his flank on the right, and Oscar patrols central areas, the young Barcelona star is given freedom to wander from his left-sided starting position.
It is in this way that he can be most useful to his side. He has the pace and trickery to play as a standard left-winger if required, and can isolate full-backs with greater ease from this position.
However, he is also permitted by Scolari to drift infield and play off central striker Fred if required. It is an option that opens up full-back Marcelo to problems in defence, but allows Neymar to vary his approach in order to maximise his potential influence.
It has been an excellent tournament for the youngster, as well as for his Brazil side, and should set him up nicely for an expected starring role at next year's World Cup competition.
With a year under his belt at Barcelona, he should approach that competition better and wiser than ever. It will be intriguing to watch his progress.
With a likely semifinal encounter against Uruguay to come, Brazil have every chance of making the final of the Confederations Cup next week. Neymar, then, may have two more games in the coming days in which to indelibly write his name into the history books of this competition.
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