In Brief

Neymar’s World Cup: goals, sublime skills and annoying play-acting

The brilliant Brazilian continues to divide opinion across the football world

Going into the World Cup there were three superstars - but now only one remains. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are presumably sunning themselves on a beach somewhere after the elimination of Argentina and Portugal, leaving Brazil’s Neymar the last of the three musketeers.

The Brazilian was at the heart of his side’s 2-0 defeat of Mexico in yesterday’s last-16 fixture but despite a goal and sparks of trademark brilliance the Paris Saint-Germain star continues to divide opinion.

“Neymar has charmed Brazil, but annoyed the whole world” was the headline in Brazilian newspaper Globo, prompting an analysis from BBC Sport, which said his performance against Mexico “once again combined the sublime and ridiculous”. 

There’s no doubt there’s something about Neymar that winds people up. Ronaldo has it too, a sulkiness to go with his sublime skill, but it’s more pronounced in the South American.

There’s the play-acting, of course, much in evidence against Mexico when he claimed to have been shooed by Miguel Layun, and also the sense that as far as Neymar is concerned there is an “i” in the word “team”.

According to reports last season from France, Neymar wanted “to be able to pick and choose which games he played for Paris Saint-Germain” - despite the fact he was being paid £515,000 a week to put bums on seats. 

As BBC Sport says, stories like that, and the behaviour he displayed against Mexico, explain why for all his brilliance Neymar “remains widely unpopular among neutrals”.

Not that he cares. When accusations of gamesmanship were put to him in the post-match press conference, Neymar snapped: “Look, I think it’s more of an attempt to undermine me than anything else. I don’t care much for criticism, not even from the press because in a way this can influence athletes.”

In not indulging the media and offering up bland soundbites at their beck and call, Neymar is inviting their hostility but he doesn’t care. “The last two matches I didn’t talk to the press because there’s so many people talking,” he said, a reasonable response in a social media world where everyone thinks they have something important to say.

When Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio talked to the press he didn’t mention Neymar but few people were in any doubt who he had in mind when he said: “I think we played quite well but unfortunately - and it’s a shame for football - we wasted a lot of time because of one single player. I think we lost our style in the second half due to the refereeing, every time he stopped the game.”

Theatrics and time-wasting did nothing for the image of football, added Osorio, who then articulated the thoughts of most neutrals. “This is a very negative example for the world of football and for all the children who are following the game,” he said. “This should be a strong sport, it’s a man’s sport. There shouldn’t be so much acting.”

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