Ronaldinho vs. Neymar: Who Shone Brightest for Brazil vs. Ghana?
Two players at very different points in their careers were the star attraction at Craven Cottage last night, as Brazil took on Ghana in southwest London.
I was at the game to watch Neymar, the 19-year-old whom Pele called "the next Pele" and whose prominence in the gossip columns this summers tells you will carry a monumental weight of expectations when he makes the inevitable move from Santos to one of Europe's biggest clubs.
The player himself admitted last night that Barcelona and Real Madrid are "battling" to sign him. No deal has been done yet, but it's only a matter of time before the man with the Mohawk is a regular sight in the Champions League.
Brazil lined up with Neymar to the right of striker Leandro Damaio last night. Meanwhile, the man on the opposite flank was Ronaldinho, recalled to the international scene by coach Mano Menezes and given the chance to prove he still has plenty to offer.
The 31-year-old former Barcelona and Milan star stands accused by many of wasting his potential. But after seeing his influence fade in Serie A, Ronaldinho appears to have recaptured his enthusiasm back in his homeland with Flamengo.
On last night's evidence, he's unquestionably making strides in the right direction. Looking lean and fit, Ronaldinho was at the center of things at Craven Cottage, floating around in the final third and sparking Brazil into life every time he took possession.
"He played very well and is a player we needed to bring back to the team," said Menezes after Brazil's 1-0 win. "International football is much faster nowadays and he found it a bit difficult at the beginning.
"But then he got into the rhythm and showed what he is all about in the second half. He played really well and the goalkeeper made a wonderful save from him. We need to bring him back to the international team."
Neymar was equally impressive. The teenager was limited to a handful of contributions in the first half, but he came into his own when Brazil emerged for the second 45, taking on a Ghana side reduced to 10 men after the sending off of Daniel Opare.
It was when he moved into more central areas that Neymar's talent truly began to shine through. The teenager glides in possession and rides tackles instinctively. For one so young and so inexperienced, he conducted Brazil's play like a veteran.
The big question for Neymar now is how he will cope with the huge weight of expectations that will follow him all the way to the 2014 World Cup.
Judging on this evidence, he'll do just fine, and who knows, he might just be lining up in the same side as Ronaldinho as Brazil look to win their home tournament.
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