Neymar must show he has substance to match style against Costa Rica
Pre-tournament favourites Brazil lumbered to a 1-1 draw against Switzerland in their opening World Cup game. And much of the criticism around the Selecao performance focused on Neymar.
While there were a few question marks over his pre-game fitness, many were surprised by just how ineffective the 26-year-old was.
The Paris Saint-Germain star was sluggish on the ball throughout – losing possession and dawdling on the ball. That made him easy prey for a combative Swiss side.
Unlike, for example, Cristiano Ronaldo – who thrives on adversity – Neymar cast a frustrated figure as Switzerland singled him out for some rather robust man-marking.
As well as looking poor on the ball, the man with the eye-catching new haircut wasted a couple of good opportunities in front of goal.
That included a weak header straight at Yann Sommer from an inviting Willian cross. Either side of the keeper, and it would almost certainly have been the winner.
There’s no doubting Neymar’s immense quality. The world’s most expensive player scored 28 goals and chalked up 16 assists in his 30 games for PSG last term.
But the criticism he endured in the wake of the Switzerland game isn’t something he’s used to. And how he adapts and reacts will tell us a lot about the man – and about Brazil’s World Cup hopes.
He has the benefit of facing easier opposition – on paper, at least – this time around.
Costa Rica came second in CONCACAF, but have now managed just two clean sheets – and two wins – in their last nine competitive games.
Up against him at right-back will be Celtic’s Cristian Gamboa. The Hoops’ man has barely had a sniff of first-team football in the past 12 months – playing just three times.
That lack of match-practice could make him easy fodder for Neymar, whether he’s looking to cut inside and shoot – or get the space to deliver in balls for Gabriel Jesus.
Despite picking up a minor knock during the Switzerland game, the PSG man is likely to start.
The odds suggest it’ll be a far happier 90 minutes for the man from Mogi das Cruzes.
Brazil are 2/9 to secure victory over Costa Rica for the 10th meeting in succession.
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