Monday, July 2, 2018 10:41 pm
Neymar barged his way into the 2018 FIFA World Cup limelight with a goal, an assist and another helping of histrionics as Brazil roared into the quarter-finals.
The five-times champions secured a 2-0 victory over Mexico on Monday to help inflict a seventh straight second round exit on the central Americans.
The PSG forward was both architect and executioner for Brazil, sliding home in the second half and then teeing up Roberto Firmino late on.
But he also brought some drama into the game as he writhed on the floor, seemingly in agony, after Mexico’s Miguel Layun had made slight contact with his ankle.
However, that should not overshadow his generally positive display, as the former champions beat an otherwise stubborn Mexico.
The Mexicans’ World Cup began with such promise with a victory over champions Germany, but ended in familiar fashion in the first knockout round.
It was the seventh World Cup running that Brazil have reached the last eight, where they will now face Belgium or Japan.
On their part, Mexico have not made it to that stage since they hosted the tournament in 1986.
Mexico, who enjoyed an enviable recent record against Brazil having won seven of their previous 15 matches against them, were a threat on the counter in the first half.
But they then faded, without ever really being put to the sword.
For all their quasi-mythological attacking traditions, this Brazil side have a pragmatism that keeps them in check.
This is done in such a way that you cannot see them ever truly cutting loose at this tournament.
Having kept clean sheets in seven of their previous eight games, they were never going to commit men forward.
That would have allowed Mexico to pick them off on the counter in the same way that Germany did in the group stage.
That is not to say that they were not under the cosh in the early stages as Mexico sought to isolate the Brazilian fullbacks Fagner and Filipe Luis.
They both looked vulnerable as Carlos Vela and Hirving Lozano bore down on them.
Lozano had an effort blocked after two minutes as did Hector Herrera, but as the first half wore on Brazil got on top in the stifling Samara heat.
A glaring spotlight had been on Neymar after his opening three performances saw him miss a litany of chances, frequently squandering possession and spending far too long on the turf.
Yet he answered a number of questions with his performance and a decisive finish early in the second half from a move he had started himself.
Minutes after the restart Brazil took the lead in exquisite fashion with Neymar starting and ending the move.
He darted across the edge of the area before a perfect backheel released Willian, whose low cross fizzed into the danger area where Neymar slid in to turn the ball home.
It was a choking blow for Mexico, who had been the better side for the opening half an hour, pegging Brazil back and creating several half chances.
Brazil had to wait until the 88th minute to put the match to bed when Neymar was the architect again, crossing for Firmino to tap the ball home.
They will have to do without defensive midfielder Casemiro in the quarter-finals, however, after he was booked for the second time.(Reuters/NAN)