SAO PAULO (AP) The last time Neymar faced Colombia, he was sent off and went on a rant that led to a four-match suspension. The time before, he left the field on a stretcher with an injury that ended his World Cup at home.
Neymar has no fond memories of those recent matches with the senior team. Now he hopes for better luck in the Olympics when Brazil and Colombia meet in the quarterfinals Saturday (9 p.m. ET — Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCOlympics.com).
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A loss at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo would mean another huge disappointment for the Brazilian star, who arrived at the Rio Games with the responsibility of leading the nation to its first gold medal in soccer.
A good performance by Neymar is critical. To that end, he rested during Friday’s practice because of a right ankle injury.
“We need him to be ready to play on Saturday,” coach Rogerio Micale said.
Neymar was provoked by opponents in the last two games against Colombia. He was ejected in the 1-0 loss in the group stage of the Copa America last year, eventually being suspended after confronting the referee in the tunnel to the locker rooms.
At the World Cup, Neymar kept his cool during most of the match, but broke a bone on his back after being hit from behind in the final minutes. Brazil won 2-1 but Neymar’s tournament was over and the hosts eventually were eliminated in the infamous 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals.
“This is all part of the past,” Micale said. “It’s a different moment. I’m not worried about provocations. Neymar is provoked anywhere he plays, because of his quality. Players try to get to him, but he is used to that by now. He has matured and is well-prepared.”
Neymar struggled in the first two games at the Rio Games, when Brazil was held to scoreless draws by South Africa and Iraq. But he played well along with the rest of the team in the 4-0 win against Denmark on Wednesday, a result that prevented the hosts from another embarrassing elimination at home.
“The mentality won’t change after this previous match,” he said. “We’ll give everything we have to help Brazil win the match and advance.”
Colombia made the quarterfinals by defeating title-favorite Nigeria 2-0 on Wednesday. It is relying on veteran striker Teo Gutierrez, who also played with the senior squad the last two times the teams met. He already has two goals at the Olympic tournament.
“We will be playing against a very good team,” Micale said. “We will need to be focused from the start to be able to play well against them and advance.”