Bookends of brilliance from the Confederations Cup’s most talked-about player defined today’s first match in Brazil, with Neymar’s early goal and late, defense-breaking assist giving the host nation a 2-0 win over Mexico.
Barcelona’s newest star opened the scoring in the ninth minute when a failed clearance from Maza Rodríguez fell on his left foot, the resulting volley blasted past Jose de Jesus Corona for the game’s opening goal. While the ensuing 80 minutes saw Mexico play their hosts on even footing, Neymar ended all doubts in stoppage time, when a dribble that split Hiram Mier and Rodríguez in the left of El Tri’s penalty area allowed him to pick out Jo for an easy, game-clinching goal.
The performance served as a 90-minute crash course in the 21-year-old’s game. His precise finish buried a shot many would have wasted, his unexpected chance met with the calm and precision of a player who already has 22 international goals. While much of the rest of the match saw few returns from a scheme that allowed Neymar free run of Brazil’s left side, he was eventually able to create Brazil’s icing goal, his break down of Mier showing the danger he presents in any one-on-one scenario.
Here’s the first goal:
And the second:
Neymar’s game may not be an all-around one, but in its marvelous spurts of indefensible skill, his talents often prove lethal for opponents. It’s a quality that will give Barcelona a needed second option next season. It also give Brazil a change to transcend their recent, indifferent results and become a legitimate, Spain-threatening dark horse over the next two weeks.
The win leaves Brazil at the top of their Confederations Cup group, two wins in as many games leaving them temporarily three points clear of Italy in Group A. The Italians play Japan in the day’s second game. Should Cesare Prandelli’s team claim at least one point, Mexico will be eliminated from the tournament.
That quick resolution would a pitter pill for a Mexico team that has improved over fledgling play that’s left them third in the World Cup qualifying group, but unable to turn possession into goals against Brazil, the team’s problems remain the same. For all of their quality — a golden generation of young talent that should see them consistently compete with the world’s most renown soccer nations — Mexico can’t seem to find goal. Arguably more worrisome: Head coach Chepo de la Torre seems out of ideas as to how El Tri can get over their hump.
There were undoubtedly positives to take from today’s game, but against a team still trying to find their identity under Luiz Felipe Scolari, moral victories are insufficient. El Tri, for all their positives, were less effective against the Seleçao than England had been earlier this month, a comparison that highlights how far Mexico has drifted. Whereas over the last two years they’ve claimed a dominant Gold Cup title and an Olympic gold medal — results that had fans wondering if 2014 could give the nation a long-awaited World Cup breakthrough — soon the Seleccíon will left to consider drastic steps to get their team’s ambitions back on track.