Neymar at hypnotic best as Brazil’s revolution rolls on
Superstar is playing with a new freedom within his rebuilt team, writes Matt Law at Wembley
When the opposition’s mascot entertains the crowd with keepy-ups with the outside of one of his oversized boots, you know it is going to be a difficult night.
Gunnersaurus would have only been able to look on with envy from his home in another corner of North London, as ‘Canarinho’ showed off his skills. And, at times, England’s players knew exactly how Arsenal’s big green dinosaur felt.
There was something hypnotic about watching Brazil complete pass after pass to the tune of the Samba beat coming from the yellow corner of Wembley.
But before the crowd fell into a trance, Neymar produced a firsthalf moment that was worth the admission fee alone – even though it did not result in a goal.
As the ball reached him on the edge of the penalty area, the world’s most expensive footballer chipped the ball over Eric Dier
You could only feel sorry for Jake Livermore as the forward nutmegged him
with the outside of his left boot into the path of Gabriel Jesus. It did not particularly matter that Jesus was correctly flagged offside, Wembley had witnessed a unique piece of skill akin to a Phil Mickelson flop-shot in golf.
Neymar was the star attraction last night, as the high-pitched squeals every time he touched the ball underlined. You could only feel sorry for Jake Livermore, as Neymar nutmegged his way past the West Bromwich Albion midfielder and attacked England’s defence.
He had not been ready to carry the weight of a nation in 2014, but Neymar is warming up to be one of the stars of the Russia World Cup. Unburdened of the captaincy, the 25-year-old played with a freedom at Wembley and is clearly happy to have Jesus and Philippe Coutinho around him. But this was not just the Neymar show, and nor will it be next summer, as Brazil head coach Tite has built a team that is no longer reliant on one man or a single piece of outrageous skill.
There is power in the form of Jesus and Paulinho, cunning from Coutinho and, shock horror, sharp defending from Miranda. Brazil also boast two of the better goalkeepers in the world in Alisson and Manchester City’s Ederson.
Brazil were broken following the humiliating 7-1 defeat by Germany in 2014, but Tite has pieced them back together with largely the same players who had failed so badly under Dunga. When he took over in June 2016, Brazil were languishing sixth in South American World Cup qualifying. But they comfortably booked their place in Russia with 10 wins from 12 qualifiers to top their group.
The goalless draw with England meant that, in 17 internationals, Brazil have scored 38 goals and conceded just five. Chelsea fans may wonder why David Luiz is not part of the revolution, but nobody in Brazil does. As if to illustrate the different rebuilding jobs that have faced Tite and Gareth Southgate, England’s inexperienced starting line-up had scored only 12 international goals between them ahead of kick-off. Brazil’s team started the game on 99. Make no mistake, Brazil are heading to Russia to win a sixth World Cup, while England will be happy to hang on to the coat-tails of the real contenders.
That is not to say that England were completely outclassed by Brazil last night, as clear-cut chances were few and far between thanks mainly to John Stones and man-of-the-match full debutant Joe Gomez.
Marcus Rashford caused the Brazil defence problems with his pace and confidence to run at them, and substitute Tammy Abraham was inches away from tapping in an unlikely late winner.
But there was always a sense that Brazil were toying with England, and their strength was further demonstrated when Tite was able to call for Willian from the bench when Coutinho had tired. Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho also got on for Renato Augusto and struck the foot of a post.
Brazil may not have taught this young England team a lesson in terms of the scoreline, but there was enough in their performance to support the fact they will arrive at next summer’s World Cup as one of the favourites. And Canarinho has already set the standard for the other mascots.