Neymar is back. He scored to lead Brasil to a 2-0 win over Croatia in a World Cup tune up match.
The Daily Mail:” The routine was just as you will have remembered: head bowed, hands pointing to heaven before blessing himself then breaking into a sprint.
It had been 98 days since Neymar had last gone through that custom before a game but here he was on the side of the pitch, bedecked in that famous, shimmering No 10 shirt of Brazil, ready for action just in time for the World Cup.
Neymar has been prolific on Instagram since breaking his metatarsal on February 25 – there have been 60 posts to his 93million followers, along with a raft of short video stories – but was he physically ready to be prolific in Russia? It was the only question that needed answering at Anfield.
He had eased himself into this friendly with Croatia, with a couple of routine passes and one shot that was comfortably gathered by Danijel Subasic but then, in the 69th minute, the world’s most expensive footballer came to life in the most glorious fashion.
After receiving a pass from Philippe Coutinho, Neymar began to dance into the area. His touch was sure and hypnotic, his intent clear – two Croatia defenders were put on their backsides as he moved his hips, then the ball, one way then another. The finish that followed was just as emphatic.
From the corner of the six-yard box, he hoodwinked another red-and-white shirt before slamming a drive into the roof of the net in front of The Kop. How he enjoyed it, heading off at speed and jumping into the air before being engulfed by his team-mates.
This was a goal that epitomised all that is good about Brazil, the skill and the effortless samba style, in one devastating moment yet, ironically, it didn’t even illicit the biggest cheer of the day – that was reserved for local hero Roberto Firmino’s injury time strike to complete a 2-0 win.
But the significance of this goal – his 54th for Brazil – could not be lost. It was, of course, spectacular but also soothing, reassuring a nation that the man in whom so many dreams are entrusted will be close to peaking for the opening World Cup assignment against Switzerland in Rostov.
To describe Brazil as a one-man team would be nonsense but what the Paris Saint-Germain star does is elevate them to another level entirely.
Before he had been introduced, they had looked tentative and struggled to breakdown Croatia’s defence, but Neymar transformed everything.
The first half, in terms of action, had been instantly forgettable. Brazil – the admirable Willian apart – operated at a speed that was only just above training ground level and Croatia actually had the best opportunity of the opening 45 minutes, when Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren crashed a header wide.
Croatia, whose World Cup group consists of Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland, were disciplined and looked comfortable but the sight of Neymar changed their mind-set and introduced doubt; they barely got forward in the second period, anxious about leaving space for Neymar to exploit.
Staying back, though, did them no good.
The more they retreated, the more it became inevitable that Brazil would score and so it proved.
The gloss was applied to the final score in injury time when Firmino raced onto a ball from Manchester City’s Danilo and lobbed Subasic.