Friday, 21 June 2013

The boom of Latin America's latest megastar

Two games was all it took for the star of Brazilian football to shatter any negative preconceptions held about him.

Neymar began the Confederations Cup under enormous pressure. He was expected by the most expectant of footballing nations to lead the Selecao to a third consecutive triumph at the tournament – of which they are hosts. Their belief in the 21-year old Neymar was grounded in the swapping of shirt numbers with Oscar, which saw the former land the esteemed number ten jersey.

Brazil see Neymar as their messiah, the one to lead them to glory.

Added to that, he had to justify to the rest of the football-watching world the 57m euros that Barcelona recently shelled out to sign him.

Shoots too often, unproven in Europe, doesn't pass enough, a ‘YouTube player’ and forgets he has teammates are some of the charges levelled at Neymar. Many of those who hadn't followed his progress at Santos in the Brasileiro even claimed that the transfer was only founded on the masterful work of his PR team.

These criticisms were answered within three minutes of the tournament beginning. As Siphiwe Tshabalala and Philipp Lahm had done before him, Neymar began a tournament with an iconic opening goal for the host nation, a stunning strike that span up and away from the reach of the Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.

If a few sceptics remained, Neymar went closer to appeasing every one of them when he scored a second early opener in Brazil’s following match. This one was of equal brilliance, a perfectly-met left-footed volley in the ninth minute against Mexico. But it was in stoppage time when he gave the greatest demonstration in the tournament to date of his remarkable individual quality.

From an unthreatening position on the left side of the pitch, Neymar glided to the edge of the box, only to be met by two defenders who were obstructing his entrance. Then with a swish of his feet so impossibly quick that it is hard to observe what trick he had conjured even in slow motion, he sliced through those in his way and laid on a tap in.

The best players are judged most critically on their performances in major tournaments. A strong display in a World Cup is the only remaining barrier from Lionel Messi claiming the title of greatest of all time. One more rival to Messi’s hopes of achieving this has emerged, as Neymar has certainly proved he is capable.

photo by Jefferson Bernardes

While Neymar’s star has risen during the Confederations Cup, another South American’s has floundered.

Edinson Cavani has been the subject of speculation linking him with a transfer to Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid. Napoli have turned down bids of 40m euros plus Fernando Torres from Chelsea already, and are waiting resolutely for his release clause of 63m euros to be met in full.

Cavani has yet to score in this year's Confederations Cup and spurned excellent chances from almost identical positions against Spain and Nigeria. Each time a floated free-kick reached the head of the most clinical striker from last season's Serie A, but Cavani failed to direct the ball at goal on either occasion.

He was guilty of another glaring miss in the match against Nigeria. Similar to the one Diego Forlan converted, only this time falling on the striker's preferred right foot, Cavani shanked an ugly shot that rose high and wide.

With only 14 goals in over 50 appearances for his country, Cavani needs to summon his club form if he is to justify on the grand international stage the price tag that his South American counterpart Neymar has done so emphatically. 

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