Brazil prove they do not need Neymar, even with him on the pitch



Everything appeared set up for the type of resurrection that has not followed his previous World Cup injury setbacks and if it did not quite reach those divine heights, Neymar played well enough. Outside of the penalty, there were the usual flights of fancy. Neymar at one stage found himself closed down by not just Korea’s Hwang In-beom and Cho Gue-sung but also the referee Clement Turpin. He spun past all three, rouletting away and bursting on the attack. It was his personal highlight of a game where you could tell he felt good. He knew that he would. And for that reason, he was always going to play.

Did he have to, though? And did Brazil need him to? That is a different question. Neymardependência is a word that is easily translated into English and has been used so often in Brazil over the past decade that it might have come close to earning a place in its dictionaries. The states of blind panic that have met Neymar’s fitness problems – of which the manic rendition of the national anthem before the 7-1 defeat by Germany in 2014 is the best example – have become a familiar trope for those who only pay close attention every four years.

Yet as Brazil established their total superiority during an extraordinary first half, surging into a 4-0 lead, it was notable how minor his role was in the other three goals. Neymar was officially credited with the assist for the first, though that was generous at best, given how he had been attempting to convert Raphinha’s cross, not deflect it into the path of Vinicius Junior. For the brilliant third, started and finished by Richarlison, several Brazilian players flocked to him in celebration despite him being a bystander. The cross to Lucas Paqueta for the fourth flew directly over his head.

The penalty was Neymar’s 76th goal for Brazil, one off equalling Pelé as the Selecao’s all-time leading goalscorer. He will break that record sooner or later and if he breaks it at some point over the next fortnight or so, while concerns for the health of arguably the greatest player of all time abound, it will add a certain significance to both his journey through this World Cup and Brazil’s, too. Yet to watch how the array of attacking talent that now surrounds Neymar dismantled South Korea was to witness a team no longer in thrall to a single icon, no longer dependent on any individual.

Neymar is back, apparently injury free, and may finally lead his teammates all the way. But if he limps off the stage frail and broken again, Brazil can be confident that success at this tournament will not be defined by whether he comes back on.

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