Neymar centre of attention as Brazil clinch vital World Cup win over Costa Rica

In the end it was Neymar who had the last laugh – and tears of relief at the final whistle – but this was a battle for him and Brazil. They eventually found a way.

Tite’s talisman had been thrown back into the starting XI, despite a midweek ankle problem causing him to limp out of training.

Neymar’s fitness continues to be a primary concern for Brazil, given he is still returning to top shape after a three-month lay-off with a foot injury sustained playing for Paris St-Germain. But it feels as though he is too important to the psyche of this side to be left out.

Like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, that responsibility is weighed on Neymar.

His former rival and team-mate have reacted in different ways to that pressure in Russia but Neymar, whose effectiveness can so far be measured somewhere in between the iconic pair, continues to demand a commanding role.

From taking the initiative with the ball at his feet to attempting to conduct affairs for referee Bjorn Kuipers, Neymar was the centre of attention for the majority of the 97 minutes played.

That importance Neymar feels appeared to border on entitlement at times as he barked instructions at the referee after every loose Costa Rica challenge, but there’s no doubt Brazil’s main man has been handed some rough treatment so far in Russia.

Neymar has been fouled 14 times across the first two games (including 10 times against Switzerland, the most sustained by one player at a World Cup in 20 years). Although he will feel he should have had many more free-kicks, that total is five more than any other player at the tournament.

Combined with several smart stops from Costa Rica keeper Keylor Navas and Brazil’s inability to break the deadlock, Neymar’s frustration visibly grew.

When the penalty awarded for his tumble in the box was overturned with the help of VAR on 78 minutes, the forward looked set to lose his control. Booked moments later for punching the ball away, Neymar needed to regain his focus.

Fortunately Philippe Coutinho’s second goal in two games relieved the pressure. The Barcelona man nipped in to poke home a loose ball in the area and Brazil breathed a collective sigh of relief.

While most teams would have dropped back to see out the win in the final few minutes – a win Brazil badly needed after drawing their opener – the South Americans continued to take the game to Costa Rica with their confidence fully replenished.

That re-found belief was underlined by an extravagant rainbow flick from Neymar near the corner flag.

Disrespectful? For Neymar it was a response to opponents who had, he felt, unfairly hindered him, a sign that his skills would outlast the scraps and scrapes.

He got his message across more emphatically deep into stoppage time, tucking in a simple finish from close range to wrap up the victory.

A last laugh? There were tears from Neymar after the game. He was overcome with emotion.

With Brazil now top of Group E and strongly placed to qualify for the knockout rounds, there are surely more ups and downs to come.

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