This wasn’t how the script was supposed to read. It was meant to finish with glory, adulation and triumph.
Everywhere across Brazil there are advertisements displaying Neymar in full-flow; he is the man expected to carry this side. There has never been so much pressure on a 22-year-old. If the Selecao’s squad is the body of the nation’s hope, he is the face the of it.
However, the last image of Neymar in this World Cup will be him leaving the pitch on a stretcher, arms raised to his head in pain after a robust challenge from Juan Zuniga left him with a fractured vertebra.
His team-mates were apoplectic with rage after the match. Oscar said that this doubles their motivation to win the competition, David Luiz stated that they would win the World Cup for him, and Thiago Silva went further. "They take your dream of playing the World Cup semi-final and final,” he said. “I love you my brother Neymar. We'll fight for you."
But that has been the problem so far. Fighting is what Brazil have been appearing to do too often. The nation associated with stylish, slick, samba football has been holding onto their dream for dear life. Clutching desperately to match their supporters’ expectations. Brazil demand a World Cup win: anything else will be failure.
Perhaps Zico, Pele, Jarzinho, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo have heightened expectations for the beautiful – the yearning to witness Joga Bonito again - but there can be no denying that Brazil are yet to hit full-stride.
Functional, they may have been, but aesthetically pleasing they certainly are not. Against Colombia they were aggressive, beyond the realms of fairness. Jose Pekerman’s outfit have had one stand-out star for the entire tournament, and Brazil knew it. Fernandinho was in the side to mark James Rodriguez, and he spent the majority of it booting him up in the air.
In the end, they still couldn’t stop him. And they looked more like the plucky underdogs than the outright favourites. One image of Marcelo striding clear with the ball, yards of space ahead of him, only for him to boot it out for a throw due to a lack of options in forward spaces, stands out. But it was cheered. Cheered vociferously, too. The win at all cost style on the pitch has clearly been accepted.
Brazil survive scrare
It could have gone wrong, though. They were outplayed for large parts by Colombia in the quarter-final and even more so by Chile in the last 16. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the width of a crossbar, which Mauricio Pinilla hit in the last minute of their round-two match, they would already be out.
They have flattered to deceive so far and too many players have under-performed. Hulk and Fred may carry physicality, but the pair have been virtually anonymous in Brazil’s mission.
In-fact, Neymar has been the only consistent attacking performer in the side. Without him questions marks are raised over their threat. Oscar has been mediocre, whilst Paulinho continues to disappoint and Willian, who may come in to replace their injured star, does not offer the same qualities.
Despite their failings, one thing that cannot be questioned is their desire. It has been etched across their face from the moment the anthems have been sung until the final whistle. But their draw hasn’t been kind – they face a Germany side, who will surely punish them for another under-par performance, especially without their captain Silva, due to suspension.
Brazil may have promised to fight for Neymar, but determination can only get you so far and they will need to show quality rather than battle from now on in if they are to lift the trophy in the Maracana at the end of this tournament.
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