London 2012: Sparkling Neymar fires Braz
London 2012: Sparkling Neymar fires Brazil into the quarter-finals
Brazil 3-1 Belarus
Brazil’s Neymar, left, celebrates with Marcelo after scoring his side’s second goal against Belarus. Photograph: Andrea Comas/Reuters
If Roman Abramovich’s instruction is to plunder Brazil’s enviable Olympic attack for young and gifted entertainers, then Santos should expect a call from Stamford Bridge any time soon. Chelsea have Oscar in the bag and have pursued Hulk all summer but it was the mesmerising talent of Neymar that shone at Old Trafford as he eased Brazil into the quarter-finals.
The 20-year-old, often linked with a move to Barcelona or Real Madrid, lived up to the hype that inevitably follows an audacious Brazilian with one exquisite free-kick and two assists in Manchester. Brazil, one of the pre-tournament favourites, had fallen behind to Belarus within eight minutes but with Neymar irrepressible and Oscar’s influence improving in the second half, Mano Menezes’ side moved into the last eight with a flourish.
“It is always difficult to play against a team with five men at the back and only three committed to going forward,” the Brazil coach said. “But we played intelligently, moved the ball well and I’m particularly pleased because this was the first time this team has won a game from being behind. The response of the team in turning the game around was very good.”
The strength of this Brazil attack outweighs the immense bulk of Hulk with the Porto forward part of a formidable front four alongside Chelsea’s new £25m signing Oscar, Neymar and Alexandre Pato. They started impressively against Egypt, winning the game with three first-half goals before almost throwing it away in the second, but a more patient approach was required at Old Trafford after a well-drilled Belarus team punctured the carnival atmosphere, albeit temporarily, by taking the lead from their first foray forward.
Ilya Aleksievich turned a fine, cross-field pass on to Aleksei Kozlov and, when his centre from the right sailed into the Brazil penalty area, Manchester United’s Rafael and his fellow defenders stood off to admire Renan Bressan Bardini’s free header into the bottom corner.
Brazil, to their credit, were unruffled and indulged in step-overs and flicks during the seven minutes in which they trailed. Their equaliser was more prosaic but it was a perfect delivery from Neymar on the left nonetheless, inviting Pato to head home from close range.
Brazil dominated possession thereafter but a series of over-hit crosses from both flanks reprieved Belarus. It was only as Oscar improved during the second half that a second from the men in gold appeared inevitable. Chelsea’s recruit twice went close from distance after powerful runs and showed excellent footwork inside the area, although it was a free-kick won and dispatched by Neymar that proved the afternoon’s highlight.
The Santos star was caught as he turned away from a pack of Belarus defenders 25 yards from goal. Picking himself up, he then swept a glorious finish over Aleksandr Gutor into the far top corner. Brazilian horns and drums sounded in honour and only a fine save from Gutor prevented Oscar matching Neymar’s free-kick in the closing moments.
Oscar finally got his goal in stoppage time and again, inevitably, Neymar was at its heart, cutting inside from the left, beating two defenders and delivering a back-heel into the path of the Chelsea midfielder, who finished convincingly.