BELO HORIZONTE: Neymar left the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte battered and bruised but relieved after holding his nerve to score from the spot in Brazil’s dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Chile.
The World Cup hosts progressed to the quarter-finals 3-2 on penalties after an epic contest had ended 1-1 over 90 minutes and extra time.
And Neymar, the 22-year-old on whose shoulders rests much of the expectation of a nation of 200 million people, survived a crunching challenge from Chile’s Charles Aranguiz with the game just four minutes old to play on and show that he could handle the enormous pressure.
“We really suffered,” Neymar told journalists.
“It was pure emotion. My tears after the game were of happiness. We know that it was not one of our best matches but the desire we showed to win and get through to the next round was huge. It was the most I have ever suffered in football.
“Today [Saturday] I had everything. I took a knock, I had a cramp. Now all I want to do is rest.”
The striker, who has scored an already remarkable tally of 35 goals in 53 appearances for his country, insisted that he played without fear despite the pressure on him and his team throughout.
“I felt no fear. Fear removes the desire to win. We knew that we would be playing a great team, but there was no fear.”
With the shoot-out level at 2-2, the Barcelona player stepped forward to take Brazil’s fifth penalty.
Had he missed, Chile could have won the tie with their next kick, but he sent his future club colleague Claudio Bravo the wrong way.
The pressure transferred to Chile defender Gonzalo Jara, who smashed his kick off the post to send Brazil into the last eight.
Sampaoli proud of defeated Chile
Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli expressed pride at his team’s performance despite seeing them exit the World Cup.
“My feeling is of pride in the players and for the Chilean people,” said Sampaoli.
“I am sad because to play like this against the hosts and end up losing in the way we did is obviously very hard for us.
“The players did everything possible and represented the country in an incredible manner. They will go down in history for the way they represented their country.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2014.
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