Brawl over Neymar scares and refers to ghosts of past World Cups

“A Cup Game”. Neymar’s definition for the friendly between Brazil and Tunisia, yesterday (27), in Paris, illustrates on many levels what the 5-1 rout was like in the last test of the Brazilian team before the World Cup debut. But the definition of “World Cup game”, in Neymar’s case, is not always accompanied by good memories. In the two World Cups that he played to date, the shirt 10 of the Brazilian team suffered from the violence of rivals, even if in very different ways. The specter of injuries has always been present.

Against Tunisia, Neymar was again a target like he hadn’t seen for a long time. He suffered three of the seven fouls marked in favor of Brazil. More than that, he was provoked by opponents, received a yellow card and even retaliated against an aggression from defender Ghaléne Chaaleli, when the game was still 0-0.

The dynamics of such a rough game and Neymar being hunted on the field is nothing new. In 2014, he was the star of the Brazilian team and candidate for the highlight of the Cup until the quarterfinals. But in the way was Camilo Zuñiga, and an injury to the third vertebra, in the final stretch of the victory over Colombia, took Neymar out of the tournament. Without its biggest reference, Brazil had a semifinal that was historic in the worst possible way: the country’s biggest defeat in World Cups, 7-1 to Germany.

Four years later, Neymar arrived at the World Cup in Russia recovering from another injury. In February 2018, he suffered a fissure in the fifth metatarsal of his right foot and was left three months away. At the World Cup, he arrived with no game rhythm for PSG and continued to be the target of opponents. From the first game, against Switzerland, he was accused of playing himself and simulating fouls, becoming – in a pejorative way – one of the main subjects of the competition.

Despite criticism and memes, Neymar was the one who suffered the most fouls in the 2018 World Cup: there were 26 in five matches. Against the Swiss alone, he suffered 10 fouls, the most in World Cups since 1998.

Better start and no injuries

Now, 57 days before his Brazilian debut in Qatar, Neymar is enjoying the best start to the season in Europe. Between PSG and the national team, there are 12 goals and 10 assists in 13 matches since August. On average, he participates in 1.7 goals per game. No one in the world has similar numbers in the period.

Injuries also took a break. The last time Neymar was out of action was between November last year and February this year, when an injury to his left ankle ruled him out for 73 days and 12 games from PSG. Since returning, he hasn’t been hurt anymore.

The injury-free period is the longest since the 2018 World Cup. Since the last World Cup, Neymar has missed PSG matches at 12 different times, due to problems such as a second injury to the fifth metatarsal, torn ankle ligaments, discomfort in the adductor muscle, a rib injury and a positive test for coronavirus.

In Le Havre, after the 3-0 victory over Ghana, Neymar spoke about the importance of being physically fit and arriving in Qatar that way. “My problem was never on the field, but some injuries that ended up getting in the way. But when I’m 100%, whole, playing football and happy, I think it’s difficult for opponents,” he said.

After the rout against Tunisia, he returned to the subject. Of course, arriving at the Cup physically and playing well is what everyone wants,” he said, before citing “unfair blows” from the Tunisians. “They gave their lives, but our team had a good head, despite the irritations,” he added.

When asked how not to get annoyed with this persecution of rivals, Neymar criticized the referees’ discretion. “I made a foul and got yellow for the first foul. I don’t know… It’s difficult, because I end up getting four, five, six fouls per game and it’s always totally different with me.”

The Brazilian team debuts in the World Cup against Serbia on November 24. Switzerland and Cameroon complete the group.

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