It came down to that man again. The 2014 Brazil team may not quite be a one-man show, but Neymar, with four goals in three World Cup games, is without doubt the ringmaster of this Selecao circus act.
A 4-1 win over an indifferent Cameroon in Brasilia, inspired by the No. 10, did little to hide the frailties behind Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil. But in the 22-year-old Felipao there's a genuine game-changer, a player who can instantly improve the side's prospects and inspire the crowd with one eye-pleasing flick of his brightly coloured boots.
To describe Neymar as a lone resident in a city of mediocrity would be overstepping the mark. The ever-understated Luiz Gustavo was a giant in the Mane Garrincha Stadium Monday afternoon, breaking up play, harrying, bothering, and, on a rare foray forward, providing a pinpoint cross for the opening goal.
A late comer to the Scolari renaissance—he only became a fixture in the friendly against England days before the Confederations Cup—it is now impossible to imagine a Brazil line-up without him.
The two standout players on the day, the Selecao will now return to action on Saturday against Chile in the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte.
Their fellow South Americans are certain to offer a sterner test than the already eliminated Cameroon, and the pace and ingenuity of Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas will be an ever-constant danger to what at times looked like a particularly fragile defensive backline.
There were signs of nerves throughout the first half, and when Joel Matip brought Cameroon level, it was a defining moment. Daniel Alves remains Brazil's first-choice right-back but was beaten too easily by Allan Nyom on the flank for the equaliser.
Maicon has always been the more defensively sound option, and there must be a serious temptation to play him against a Chile side whose passing and movement from back to front has been dynamic in this tournament.
But in moments of need, Brazil have a player they can turn to. At just 22, it is no exaggeration to say Neymar carries the hopes of a nation on his shoulders.
What is impressive is the way he shoulders the responsibility with such aplomb. Take a look at the goal that restored Brazil's lead six minutes before half-time.
Picking up the ball from Marcelo, he cut inside, jinked past a marker and drove a shot below Charles Itandje. The advantage, and momentum, was back with the hosts in a matter of seconds.
In the second half, Brazil sizzled. Scolari used the half-time interval to replace the anonymous Paulinho with Fernandinho, and the Manchester City man made a strong case for a place in the starting line-up.
It took the 29-year-old less than four minutes to show what he can bring to the team and what Paulinho has failed to do so. His pass put Hulk through on goal, but the Zenit forward couldn't get his shot away on time.
He then set in motion the move that gave Brazil breathing space. Finding David Luiz on the left, the former Chelsea defender crossed for Fred to net his first of the tournament, although there was more than a hint of offside about the finish.
Just as in the Confederations Cup, the No. 9 broke his duck in the third game of the tournament. Now he needs to consolidate and replicate his form of last year to ease the burden on strike partner Neymar.
And five minutes from time, Fernandinho netted Brazil's fourth to put the icing on the cake. Everything Paulinho did during the Confederations Cup, his substitute managed to do in one half.
He was more effective in 45 minutes than the Tottenham midfielder has been in the entire tournament.
With Cameroon out and tiring, Brazil were able to pass the ball with comfort. But for some overly intricate buildup play in the Africans' half, the difference between the sides could have been greater than three goals.
Yet, Brazil need to take note. Teams with a sharper cutting edge could well make them suffer if they begin games as lethargically as this. Following one of the less challenging of the eight groups, Scolari and his troops have a real test of character against an enormously impressive Chile outfit.
Can Neymar win this World Cup by himself? Garrincha was largely credited with leading Brazil to triumph in 1962, but there must always be a solid defensive foundation to give the craque the platform to shine.
Flat-footed defending is unlikely to be punished so lightly in Belo Horizonte.
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