Neymar makes a name for himself
After the great Ronaldo took the opportunity to say goodbye to his legions of European admirers as guest of honour at Emirates Stadium on Sunday, a new Brazilian talent set about winning some of his own. The legacy established by Pele, Romario and O Fenomeno in the storied Selecao shirt can appear daunting, but Neymar has certainly made an encouraging start, and if his talent had been somewhat obscured to a wider football audience prior to this friendly win over Scotland, it certainly is no longer.
Making his first senior appearance in Europe, Neymar produced a dazzling two-goal performance in North London. But for a 19-year-old who has already excelled for his club, Santos, and at various international levels, it was no surprise. Indeed Ronaldo, lauded from all corners of the ground a month after his retirement when paraded prior to kick-off, had already identified Neymar as the leading young talent in Mano Menezes' squad prior to the game. He did not disappoint.
Though former head coach Dunga - demonised by some in Brazil for his alleged reticence to cut loose in attack - was unwilling to take a risk on an uncapped Neymar for the World Cup last summer, his replacement is reaping the benefits of installing the teenager at the forefront of his plans to bring invention and imagination back to the Selecao. Having scored on his debut against United States in August, Neymar now has three goals in three international appearances, and with Brazil making their home World Cup in 2014 their top priority, he has the chance to command a key role, even if captain Robinho is most likely his direct competition.
Just as the Milan star, as well as Kaka and Alexandre Pato before him, had lit up this corner of North London in a previous friendly, Neymar excelled, scoring twice and hitting the bar. Ostensibly operating on the left, he was a threat both out wide and through the centre, his one-touch, link-up play exceptional and his pace and technique causing Scotland problems they could not solve. The first-half performance in particular was masterful, and was garnished with a fine goal as he collected a pass from Andre Santos, opened up his body and curled a shot past Allan McGregor. A second-half penalty, won himself when drawing a clumsy challenge from Charlie Adam, only confirmed his excellence.
It was a statement, rather than a performance, and presumably did not go unnoticed by Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini and his Chelsea counterpart Carlo Ancelotti, both of whom were in attendance. Of course, Chelsea attempted to sign Neymar last summer, only to be rejected by the player as he enhanced his status in a Brazilian league that all too easily loses its brightest stars. On Sunday's evidence, his loyalty will be tested again, and soon.
Certainly, his colleagues in the Brazil team are in thrall to his ability. As playmaker Jadson told ESPNsoccernet: "Neymar is a great player with great talent. He has got everything to shine - abroad and in Brazil. Would he be good in the Premier League? He will do well anywhere he goes because he is a great player, so that is not a problem."
Menezes, who arrested a run of two consecutive defeats with a comfortable afternoon's work against Scotland, encouraged Neymar to explore the possibility of moving to the Premier League in his press conference. "I think that could only be good for Neymar as it would be confirmation of his development," he said. "English football would make him stronger and help to escape strong marking. I don't see any problem. But Brazil fans will be deprived of watching a good player."
The country of Brazil has become accustomed to being a leading exporter of football though. As well as a steady stream of players departing for all corners of the earth, even their national team friendlies take place on far-flung continents. This was Brazil's sixth visit to North London, and when the Selecao cross the Atlantic, they bring a warm front with them. Sunday witnessed the onset of British Summer Time, and a deluge of beach balls and the exuberant spirit of the support further enhanced the illusion of the start of summer. Brazil's loss is certainly England's gain on these now regular occasions.
The Tartan Army more than played their part too. In fact, with 53,087 in attendance, they laid their own claim to be the 'home' side and contributed to an excellent atmosphere, the strains of bagpipes from the Scotland end accompanied, somewhat incongruously, by rhythmic Samba drums from the Brazilians. A clash of styles and cultures - not just on the pitch.
The apparently genial atmosphere made it all the more surprising to hear of accusations of racism following the game. While Neymar said he felt victimised by repeated booing from the Scotland fans, this was definitely a symptom of their perception that he had faked injury and exaggerated a dive for the penalty, rather than anything more sinister. However, the accusation that a banana was cast onto the pitch was far more serious. Liverpool's Lucas Leiva was the man who picked up the offensive item. "There is no more space for racism in the world," he said. "They say it's the first world here in Europe, but it's where it happens the most. That has to change. Everybody is equal today. It's a matter of respect." The Scottish Football Association denies its supporters were involved in racist behaviour.
That isolated incident should not detract from what was an enjoyable occasion. Quite aside from the headline-maker, Brazil also look to have a player of real potential in Sao Paulo's Lucas - a colleague of Neymar in Brazil's victory at the South American Under-20 Championship in February. Small in size but big in ambition, Lucas, 18, completely outshone Jadson after replacing the Shakhtar Donetsk star in the playmaker's role. Meanwhile, Internacional striker Leandro Damiao, 21, justified the claims of former striker Careca in the matchday programme that he could be a hit in England when lurking dangerously in the box and proving adept in the air on his debut. What a delightful non-surprise to see Brazil with yet another rich seam of attacking talent.
The final word, though, should go to the young man whose name is on everyone's lips after his excellent display. Pricking up the ears of Premier League managers, as well as those who like to recall the goalscoring feats of past Brazilians, Neymar said after his two goals: "Ever since I was first called to the squad I have always wanted to make history, and thanks to God I am doing this ... the stadium is great; the pitch is too. The [English] weather I don't like all that much, but I could get used to it."