The lasting image of Neymar here will be that of Brazil’s golden child sobbing on the field at full time.
It was — according to his garrulous coach Tite — a release of pressure, symbolic of a three-and-a-half month battle with injury that had finally ended with a victory and a goal. It was an understandable explanation.
But there was also another snapshot that was just as revealing in terms of Neymar’s emotional state. About 15 minutes before Brazil rescued this game and perhaps their World Cup with two late goals, Neymar was seen expressing his displeasure with a Costa Rica opponent who he believed to be time-wasting.
‘Puta,’ Neymar was seen saying on camera. Loosely translated from Portuguese, it means wh***.
In Brazil, this competition represents more than just football. It is about national pride and self-esteem and worth. And nobody feels that more than the players. So this was a big day for Neymar and it showed. He is perceived to be far too central to what this Brazilian side do for their own good.
He is not even currently their best player — that mantle is held by the marvellous Philippe Coutinho — and Tite also has Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino and Willian to call on. Brazil are good enough to win this World Cup without laying all their hopes at the feet of the world’s most expensive player. But Brazilian football must have a totem. It has always been like this. This generation’s is Neymar and he doesn’t shy away from it.
His football here was fitful. There was no lack of effort but until he scored from six yards in the 97th minute there had not always been end-product. His behaviour was poor — far too much mouthing at the officials — while those tears at the end reflect his narcissism. He is like Cristiano Ronaldo in that regard: not happy if the story is not about him. But that is where the comparison between the two begins and ends at the moment. Ronaldo has already claimed part-ownership of this tournament while Neymar is feeling his way into it.
Asked if Neymar’s tears had not arrived a little early in the competition, Tite said: ‘I think the joy and the pride of representing the national team is a lot, so he feels the responsibility, the joy, the pressure and he has the courage to show that.
‘Every person shows that the only way they can and that is his way. In terms of his football, his individuality will only show up if the team are playing well. I will not put all the responsibility on the shoulders of one player.
‘Remember how long he was out. He needs time to get back to the top but he will get there.’
At times it is tempting to wonder if Neymar unbalances Brazil, if not tactically then emotionally, and part of the problem is that he constantly seems to be seeking to prove himself. He undoubtedly made the wrong move when he left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain and it looks a little as if he is relying on international football for self-validation.
Here he played predominantly down the left. He did not want for effort and ran as hard as he could all day. There was a sublime piece of corner-flag magic at the death but the game was won by then, the pressure was off.Before that he did carry a threat but too often the first touch was heavy and the pass over-hit. As for the dive for the ‘penalty’, the footage speaks for itself.
Brazil say he will improve and we hope so. They seem to think they need him and in turn this tournament certainly needs them.