RIO DE JANEIRO: Mercilessly cast as “greedy” and “missing” for failing to fire Brazil to victory in their Rio 2016 opener against South Africa, Neymar and his highly-touted teammates need a big response against Iraq today.
A 0-0 draw against a South African side reduced to 10 men for the final half hour on Thursday was met with a chorus of boos by a near 70,000 capacity crowd in Brasilia.
Brazil were expected to launch the Games in style as red hot favourites to land a first Olympic football gold thanks to the presence of Barcelona superstar Neymar.
However, he suffered the most severe backlash in the Brazilian press after losing possession 27 times, more than double any other Brazilian player.
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“Greedy Neymar becomes a problem in the Olympic team,” said ESPN Brazil.
“Inexplicably, Brazil did everything contrary to what they rehearsed and preached for 17 days [in preparation],” added Rio newspaper O Globo. “Neymar was missing too.”
However, Neymar, who had Brazil’s two best efforts brilliantly saved by Itumeleng Khune, defended his decision to act as more of a playmaker, comparing his role to that occupied by five-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi at Barcelona.
“Sometimes you end up playing according to a certain player. It’s like how Barcelona play. We play according [to] Messi, he is the guy who plays more on the ball and we end up moving off the ball,” he said.
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“It’s why we don’t get bothered by touching the ball into Messi, that’s what many people do not understand.”
However, Brazil coach Rogerio Micale defended his star and captain, citing rustiness as Neymar hadn’t been involved in competitive action since May 22 after skipping the Copa America in June.
“I think we have to see he is coming off a long holiday period and is regaining the pace of play,” said Micale. “He will grow a lot during the competition, I have great confidence in him.”
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Neymar didn’t face the ire of the Brazilian press alone.
Manchester City’s new £27 million signing Gabriel Jesus somehow managed to hit the post when presented with an open goal. “I will not sleep tonight,” admitted the 19-year-old.
Another slip-up against Iraq back in Brasilia is unimaginable for the hosts, but they will face a well-prepared and highly-motivated opponent who enjoyed the better of their opening 0-0 draw with Denmark.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2016.
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