Neymar Display Leaves Brazil Looking at 2014 World Cup with Relish
Brazil continued their global tour as their preparations for next summer's FIFA World Cup stepped up, with an impressive 3-1 victory over Portugal on Tuesday.
While the result alone will be confidence-inducing to fans and team members alike, it was the overall performance of star attacker Neymar which once again caught the eye, and which will do most to fire imagination that Brazil can win the World Cup on home soil in 2014.
An important season for the Barcelona forward is ahead, and the latest signs are that he is more than ready to take on his biggest challenges and be a success.
Confidence and Arrogance
Those challenges in front of Neymar are to be displayed and laid out very much in the public eye this year.
A notoriously intrusive Spanish media will be following his every touch, his every substitution and his every shot on goal this season, and he will be furiously and harshly judged on his contribution to the title-winning Barcelona team.
Can he work with Leo Messi? Can he improve the side consistently and significantly? Even if he can, that's not necessarily what will always be reported, and the Brazilian star has to be strong enough to ignore it or at least not be bothered by it.
The early signs of this season are that he is very much up to the task of playing his part both with humility but also quality. Both are traits he will need to succeed at Barcelona. Neymar's confidence on the pitch is there for all to see.
Footballing arrogance is another mental attribute he needs, in as much that he takes to the field knowing he's better than the defenders he faces; he receives the ball already planning what to do with it once he has beaten the marker quickly closing him down.
It's not a failing in a football sense, it's a vital commodity for a technical, speedy attacker who is expected to deliver.
If questions lingered over Neymar's ability to produce telling performances against Europe's best, they will be well answered by the time the World Cup rolls around. A full season with Barcelona will be behind him, while at international level he has already faced England, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia, France and now Portugal over the past 14 months.
Whether it is worthy of note or not is another matter, but Neymar's three goals for Brazil against European opposition over that period of time have all come since June.
The ridiculous yellow card handed to Neymar for an incident early on which was blatantly Porgugal defender Pepe's fault, and the ensuing attempt at intimidation from the Real Madrid man, was another marker for Neymar to overcome—and he did it quickly, and in style.
Gliding past an inert and impotent Pepe en route to scoring Brazil's second goal would have been swift, sweet revenge for the Brazil forward.
Quality End Product
On that last point, beating a man and showboating are all well and good, but as the main man in a Brazil team, Neymar is expected to deliver.
Final passes have to be executed well, decision-making has to be mature and well-timed, and goals have to continue to flow.
Neymar's performance against Portugal delivered plenty of moments which ticked all three boxes.
The No. 10 was heavily involved in all three of his nation's goals against Portugal: His set-piece delivery led to Thiago Silva's headed equaliser, a dribble and shot saw him score the second goal himself, while a fine through ball led directly to the assisting cross for the final strike of the match.
That kind of regular telling contribution in the final third is what will get the fans, and the team, truly believing that with Neymar in the team, success is genuinely possible for Brazil in 2014.
Settled Role in a Seemingly-Settled Side
A final point to note is that Neymar has a fixed role in Felipe Scolari's Brazil team, and the entire team in general seems almost decided upon already. Two or three positions might still be up for grabs, but the formation, playing style and the majority of the regular starters are already known, and Neymar and his teammates are getting consistent playing time alongside each other.
Cutting infield from the left side onto his right foot gives Neymar the ability to choose his weapon; does he dribble, shoot from range, try a through pass?
A good relationship with Marcelo in previous matches on that flank has also given him space to drop into and receive the ball while the left-back pushes forward, forcing the opposition right-back into a decision over whether to mark Marcelo or Neymar and leaving the other in space.
There will doubtless be three or more friendlies still to come for Brazil before they open the World Cup next summer—more chances for Neymar to improve his game and extend his influence on his nation's attack.
But the signs so far look so good, for player and country, that a big summer could be ahead.
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