Serbia 0 - 2 Brazil: Neymar weaves his magic
It doesn’t matter how many times you witness the tricks, when you are sat close enough to smell the dubbin on his boots, the synapses never tire of spinning impressions of Neymar, back and forth around our heads. The speed, the athleticism, the bravery and the balls-out audacity make you wonder why anyone else bothers to play the game.
The Spartak Stadium was flush with shirts the colour of the sun. How many spoke Portuguese? Who knows? Who cares? Neymar and Brazil had come to town for the first time in this World Cup, and Moscow was plugged in. We are all fans of the Selecao, of course we are, compelled to love a team that loves a dribble, curls ’em in, dares to risk.
This is not the best iteration we have seen, but in Neymar they have a sherbet who would fizz in any Brazilian XI. We have seen too little of him in Russia, the foot injury he brought with him clearly hampering his start, but he was back at it here, his golden mane trimmed neatly for the occasion.
A point would have been enough to see Brazil through. With the win they put the icing on Group E. Organisation and containment, hit on the break. That was so obviously Serbia’s goal in the hope that they might squeeze Brazilian pips sufficiently to force an error and nick the win that would take them through.
There was always hope in a Brazil rearguard hastily reconfigured. After losing right-back Danilo 24 hours before kick-off, Marcelo limped out of the match after ten minutes. Replacement Felipe Luiz would just have to do.
Though Neymar is the obvious funnel through which the yellow juice flows most readily, such is the attention he receives, at least two, often three opponents within kissing distance, the ball shifts quickly to other parts. Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus are frequently first receivers, not the worst understudies this stage has seen.
And so it was that Coutinho picked out the advancing Paulinho, hitherto a minder of more polished jewels, with a very Brazilian pass, all pace and bend, leaving the Barcelona henchman needing only to toe poke it past the overmatched Vladimir Stojkovic to ease Brazil ahead.
There is a visceral quality about Brazil, a belly that never can never be sated born of privations the first world will never know. This is understood in neighbourhoods the size of small towns that live under corrugated roofs and pirate electricity off the national grid when the cops aren’t looking.
This survival instinct comes in handy when you have to dog it out. Yes, even Brazil have to do that. Nothing is given in this game and Serbia are a handful when their dander is up. For a ten-minute spell in the second half, Brazil were penned in and properly stretched.
The spell was broken when Thiago Silva rose to meet Neymar’s corner and plant the ball in the net. The yellow shirts did not pile over him. Instead he led them to the corner flag to commune with the the golden child who curled the ball so perfectly on his napper.
Brazil set a chilling standard here, one that their rivals will have to match if they are to deny them a sixth carnival on World Cup Sunday.