To say that Neymar is the biggest star of Brazilian soccer right now is an understatement. He’s like the Justin Bieber/One Direction of soccer. He is the face of a new generation of Brazilians, and he’s also pretty good at playing soccer. But he showed in the game against Colombia in the Copa America in Chile, that he still has things to learn.
Brazil is a soccer nation that is wounded. The way that they got demolished by Germany in the World Cup last summer at home, falling 7-1, shattered the image of Brazil as one of the best soccer nations in the world. They are still ranked fifth in the world, but it has become clear that they now rely heavily on Neymar to be the talisman of the Brazilian national team.
Teams in the recent past had had stars like Dunga, Romario and Bebeto in the 90s and Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. Now it’s Neymar who is the biggest star by far followed by Thiago Silva and David Luiz. There’s a clear lack of elite-level talent in midfield and up front. There’s also some big question marks on the goaltending side.
Despite having players from several clubs in Europe, the Brazilian squad for Copa America doesn’t look as strong as in the past. They squeezed by Peru in the first game, winning 2-1 after Douglas Costa scored two minutes into added time. In the second game they lost to Colombia 1-0, but that isn’t a shock result as the Colombians have a really strong team with several creative attacking players.
The Brazilians were clearly frustrated with the loss and the game was pretty chippy throughout, and it culminated in a scrum after the final whistle. In the aftermath, Neymar and Carlos Bacca were shown red cards. For Colombia, losing Bacca for a game or two isn’t the end of the world, but Brazil losing Neymar for a game could be devastating. On Friday it was reported that CONMEBOL had handed Neymar a four-game ban and a $10,000 fine. Brazil has the option to appeal the ban, so this story is most likely not over.
So with this heavy burden on his 23-year-old shoulders, Neymar must grow up fast and become the player that can carry this Brazilian team. He cannot afford to take stupid penalties like the one he did against Colombia. With Neymar suspended in the final group game against Venezuela on Sunday and maybe for the rest of the tournament, either Diego Tardelli or Robinho will take Neymar’s spot in the lineup.
Tardelli is playing for Shandong Luneng in the Chinese Super League. The 30-year-old striker has only featured in 12 games for the national team, scoring three goals. The other option is AC Milan forward Robinho. He’s back in Brazil on loan, playing for Santos. He’s closing in on 100 caps for the national team and has a lot of experience, but there’s no doubt that his best days are behind him.
Neither of these two come close to the level of Neymar, but hopefully for the Brazilian fans, they can still do enough to get a positive result against Venezuela and get Brazil into the next phase of the tournament. If the four-game ban is upheld, then Brazil’s chances to win the Copa America diminish quite drastically.
Despite his young age, he’s one of the best players in the world. He played a big part in Barcelona’s historic season as they became the first team to win a second treble. He scored 22 league goals and another 10 in the Champions League. He has played 65 games for the Brazilian national team, scoring 44 goals. So it’s pretty obvious just how important he is for his country.
Bottom line is that he needs to be able to keep his cool no matter what happens. Opposition players will always try to get star players off their game, but Neymar needs to just let it go and concentrate on playing soccer. He’s too important to miss games, and if Brazil is going to have any success in this tournament and restore some of its pride, then Neymar needs to be on the pitch.