Neymar had lost the blonde tresses, and with it, it seemed, some of the brattishness that characterised his performance in the group stage
As Mexico controlled possession early on, Neymar was reduced to watching from the left flank, waiting for Brazil to counter
Perhaps it is old-fashioned to hope that our heroes may demonstrate a little nobility. Neymar was excellent here, by far his most effective game of the World Cup, a stripped-down, almost generous performance, but just as it seemed he might be becoming the player Brazil need him to be, he indulged in the sort of histrionics that do him and the game no favours.
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Miguel Layun did tread on his ankle as he retrieved the ball, which Neymar was clutching between his feet. Perhaps it was deliberate, perhaps not, but the proximity of the fourth official and his decision to take no action suggested there was little untoward. Neymar, though, threw himself into a spasm of feigned agony with the fairly obvious intention of getting the Mexico midfielder sent off. He was at it again in the final seconds, flinging himself to the ground with a screech of anguish, only to dust himself off and trot back once satisfied no free-kick was going to be given.
Perhaps Brazilians will say that is simply jeitinho, the spirit of cunning and law-bending that runs with malign effect through so much of its society, from football to the spectacular corrupt politics, but it is cheating and it ruined what was otherwise an extremely impressive performance, both individually and from Brazil.Neymar had lost the blonde tresses, and with it, it seemed, some of the brattishness that characterised his performance in the group stage — or perhaps it was simply that Brazil here had less of the ball than they had had previously. As Mexico controlled possession early on, Neymar was reduced to watching from the left flank, waiting for Brazil to counter. At times it was possible to see in him something of later-day Cristiano Ronaldo, a supremely skilful artillery engine to be rolled into action only when the occasion demanded. The opening goal was a result of his ingenuity, a backheel that for once wasn’t a needless flourish but which unlocked the defence.
But the self-serving Neymar has not been obliterated. He still seems to regard life as a great film in which he is the lead and everybody else mere extras. Why else would he have taken on a free-kick from absurd distance just before half-time, spooning the ball well over the bar when a whipped ball into the box might have been the better option? Why else than because he thought somebody might have scripted it, that this World Cup will yet turn out to be a story in which overcomes his frustrations to emerge as the hero?
The transformation from four years ago is remarkable. Back then, he seemed remarkably mature, the only sane man in a hysterical country. The video message he gave following his injury against Colombia in the quarterfinal was a model of conciliation and acceptance, but it did nothing to staunch the emotional incontinence of the semi-final, when David Luiz held up a Neymar shirt and a team whipped into a frenzy, imploded against Germany.