Even as Brazil comfortably completed the first part of its summer to-do list, easing effortlessly in the round of 16, its biggest star continued to be a lightning rod for attention and criticism. Neymar is one of soccer’s handful of true global icons, a colorful, creative and mostly-charming forward with boundless ability and enthusiasm for life.
Yet his personality is such that is occasionally has the ability to overshadow both his teammates and the goal of bringing Brazil its sixth World Cup title. With the second round approaching, he has a target on his back. “They still have their little problem child Neymar,” former Manchester United and Denmark goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, now an analyst for Russian television channel RT, said. “He’s still trying to impress everybody with his skills, and still nothing is really happening.
“His current standard and his current level – it might not be a bad idea to give him a bit of a break.”Dropping Neymar for Brazil’s impending clash with Mexico would be about the most drastic and dramatic move that head coach Tite could make, and there is little chance of him doing so. Neymar has the kind of near-mythical status that the soccer-mad nation of Brazil reserves for its most treasured stars, a cultural phenomenon as much as a soccer one.
But the truth is that his most meaningful contributions in the tournament so far have been to provide a series of absurd, meme-worthy moments by dramatically feigning foul of injury.After being tackled on the sideline against Serbia on Wednesday night, the 26-year-old managed to theatrically roll on the turf, completing four-and-a-half rotations, perhaps a new world record.In Brazil’s second game against Costa Rica, a penalty appeal was overturned when video replay showed that Neymar had leaped backwards to the ground after the kind of touch from an opponent that would tickle rather than cause discomfort.
Furthermore, Brazil fans are swiftly coming to the opinion that instead of Neymar, it is midfielder Philippe Coutinho who is truly making the team tick, a theory backed up by Coutinho’s magnificent pass to set up the opening goal against Serbia.
Neymar was defended by Tite, the coach perhaps hoping that easing the mental burden on his most famous player will reinvigorate him and spawn the kind of levels he showed in the 2014 World Cup, before succumbing to a back injury in the quarterfinal.“There is an excessive responsibility on Neymar in terms of success and that is not the way to go,” Tite told reporters. “We should not place it all on his shoulders.”Yet that is the burden of notoriety and stardom, and it is Neymar’s to carry regardless. Whether he is truly the problem child or not, the eyes of Brazil, and of the World Cup, are upon him.