Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Neymar Embodies Brazil's Spirit as He Puts the Team before Personal Glory; There's a Real Sense of Affection in the Squad Ahead of Tonight's Curtain-Raiser against Croatia. Ian Herbert Reports from Sao Paulo

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Neymar Embodies Brazil's Spirit as He Puts the Team before Personal Glory; There's a Real Sense of Affection in the Squad Ahead of Tonight's Curtain-Raiser against Croatia. Ian Herbert Reports from Sao Paulo

Article excerpt

Byline: Ian Herbert reports

ON THE velvet turf of the Arena de Sao Paulo here last night, Neymar didn't look like a man with his shooting boots on. He stepped away from the main Brazil training session and, from the edge of a penalty area under the watch of Luiz Felipe Scolari, was asked to lift freekicks over a metal four-man wall. It didn't go to plan. Six shots; none hit the net.

That will evidently have done little to damage the esprit de corps which, to judge by last night's session and by manager Scolari's first World Cup press conference with Neymar in a supporting role, is embedded in this team. Most teams are anxious about the watching world getting too much sight of their final session but Brazil played on for half an hour or so and there was something quite touching about the father/son dynamic between the manager and his talisman.

The 22-year-old Neymar looked like one of the wise old heads of the team who will face Croatia tonight -- the only hint of his callow youth being the giggles which punctuated the 20 minutes or so of press conference jousts with Scolari. This seemed to be genuine affection, with Scolari's warmth based on his talisman's willingness always to submit himself to the good of the team. "He doesn't specialise in marking but sometimes he does try to mark players to give his contribution to the whole team," Scolari said. Neymar said all the right things about the nation's collective spirit. "I don't want to be the best player in the World Cup. I want to win the World Cup," he memorably declared.

The worry for Brazil is the team's over-reliance upon this young man. They have always won World Cups because of three or more greats in the squad and perhaps a deadly partnership. But Scolari has only Neymar in the game-changing bracket. The Brazilian nation is unconvinced that he can win this competition single handed.

The nation was today facing more urban chaos, with the probable renewal of the Metro system strike. The impasse between workers -- demanding 16 per cent more money -- and employers -- offering eight per cent -- contributes to the uneasy sense that there are more important things to do in this vast country than stage a World Cup. This is contributing to a lack of love for the players.

'Felipao', as Scolari is universally known under the Brazilian form of 'Big Phil', has these doubts to contend with ahead of his side's opening clash. We can expect a counter-attacking display from the eastern Europeans but the Brazilians have also been preoccupied all week with the "velocidade e toque" (velocity and touch) of the Croats. Against Serbia in one of their pre World Cup friendlies, Brazil were anything but convincing, booed off at half time. There are uncertainties about which Brazil will turn up. …

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