Neymar silenced his critics with a half-volley golaço in the third minute of Brazil’s opening Confederations Cup match against Japan in Brasilia.
On a field that resembled a slip ‘n slide, Brazil’s three goal victory over Japan was exactly the sort of emphatic win that Brazil needed to get their foreign and domestic critics off their backs.
All three Brazilian goals were golaços, which gave the Seleção the satisfaction of knowing that they not only defeated Japan easily, but that the goals were electrifying enough for a not easily impressed Brazilian public.
Brazil’s first goal came courtesy of a Marcelo cross, which was chested down to Neymar by Fred, and Neymar half-volleyed Fred’s chested pass into the upper 90.
It was a goal that showed why Neymar’s technical ability is so revered worldwide. Neymar’s golaço registered high on the difficulty scale, and it will likely lift some of the pressure off his shoulders and allow him to play with more joy in Brazil’s upcoming games.
The second Brazilian goal was scored by Corinthians’ goal-scoring box-to-box midfielder, Paulinho (a player heavily linked with Inter Milan), and the goal off the half-turn showed his ability to score goals from the midfield.
While Neymar’s goal was the most riveting of the three goals, the third goal where Jô megged the Japanese goalkeeper was an example of Oscar’s excellent passing ability, as Oscar threaded an expertly-weighted pass through the Japanese defense. Both Oscar’s pass and Jô’s finish were equally artistic.
Japan is a technically-skilled team, but this game against Brazil offered little in the way of highlights or positive points for Japan. The grass was way too soft, wet, and slippery for both teams, so the field conditions weren’t really the main problem with Japan’s play. Japan is a team that played well-below its ability, and this loss should provide the Japanese coaching staff with plenty of video evidence of areas that need to be improved in the upcoming games.
This was an important statement game for both Neymar and the Seleção, and Brazil’s convincing victory was just what the Brazilian national team needed to build up some new hope and confidence, in addition to gaining the respect of its fans again.
With all of the criticism and media attention, Neymar has always remained calm and unfazed by the criticism and praise. He doesn’t make conceded statements about his abilities nor does he insult his opponents or fellow professionals.
When Neymar makes a mistake or loses an important game, he gets right back up with the same positive attitude from before the mistake or game, and he shows up to the next game with no fear of failure, but rather with the desire to play with joy.
The magic and flair that Neymar brings to the game isn’t just for show, but rather the trickery is very effective at losing defenders, scoring goals, and getting free to play passes to his teammates when they are in good positions.
Neymar’s tricks are not only exceptional because of the speed and ease at which he executes tricks that most professionals cannot successful perform against elite opponents, but Neymar combines two to three of these tricks in a single sequence.
For the purpose of perspective, it’s worth noting that Clint Dempsey, an excellent soccer player even by international standards and the best American soccer player ever, has 35 goals in 96 games for the United States. Neymar has 20 international goals in 33 games for Brazil before tomorrow’s friendly against France. Neymar also has 138 goals in 220 games for Santos.
People like throwing the proverbial rocks at Neymar, but luckily for Neymar, critics like to throw more rocks at Mario Balotelli, who despite his reputation for being a hot head must have an enormous tolerance for criticism and media slander.
Neymar attracts a lot of criticism for jumping out of the way of hackers to avoid injury, but what do these critics want, for Neymar just to allow himself to be injured?
Another piece of criticism that Neymar receives is that he’s unproven in Europe even though the best players in Brazil have almost always succeeded in Brazil.
Pato, Diego, and Robinho received a lot of criticism for their play in Europe, but no one who has followed those players closely or watched them play would call any of those three players flops or failures. Nevertheless, many soccer fans still label them as flops.
Neymar is better than both Lucas and Oscar who made their debuts in European football this season with enormous success, so why then is there this insistence by so many people particularly in the United Kingdom that Neymar isn’t proven?
Since when is being the best player in Brazil not an indicator of future success in Europe?
Neymar’s critics seem to mostly be English Premier League fans or people who feel that Spain’s success in recent years signals a return to European superiority in world soccer.
Even Champions League fans like claiming that Neymar plays against inferior competition in Brazil, never mind the fact that most of the best Champion League teams are stacked with South American players.
Whatever the motivation is for Neymar’s critics, these same critics will be in for a rude awakening when they see Neymar playing for Barcelona, as Neymar brings both a willingness to pass and the gift of making game-changing passes, not to mention tireless running off the ball and a technical skill-set and 1v1 abilities that are second to none.
Neymar’s critics should get ready to see Neymar shine because only Ronaldinho displayed the same audacity and ease to execute outrageously difficult tricks, shots, and passes.
As the net shakes and the defenders fall over, let Neymar’s critics keep talking.
Neymar’s critics accuse Neymar of being all flash, but his flash is effective at producing goals, lots of goals.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and soccer debates are unwinnable, but criticisms of Neymar that go beyond critiquing a certain element of his game or pointing out areas of improvement are invalid.
No one can accuse Neymar of not being ready for physical and elite defenders because many of the best defenders in the world are Brazilians who come out of the Brasileirão, and many of the best defensive midfielders in the world are also Brazilians who developed in Brazilian academies and in Brazilian club soccer.
There are a lot of people, particularly fans of a certain brand of overly physical tackling and long ball soccer who pretend that Neymar is unproven and all hype, but video evidence going back several years disproves these claims.
The evidence shows Neymar excelling against elite competition in Brazil and in major tournaments, and this invalidates the critics who call Neymar a diving showman who hasn’t proven himself.
One piece of so-called evidence that Neymar’s critics point out is his lack of involvement in Santos’ loss to Barcelona in the 2011 Club World Cup, but this was a game where Barcelona played three playmakers at the same time (Andrés Iniesta, Xavi, and Cesc Fàbregas) in a line of three in order to totally control possession of the ball in the midfield.
Blaming Neymar for Santos’ midfield being outplayed by the best midfield in the world hardly proves that his skill-set isn’t already proven.
All this game proved was that Barcelona planned their entire game strategy around preventing Neymar from having any touches on the ball. In a way, this is evidence of how highly Barcelona rated Neymar.
A close examination of the evolution of Neymar’s skills and playing style since around 2009 show a player who has transformed from being a supremely talented dribbler with great two-footed scoring abilities to a player who has become a deft, skilled, and willing passer who covers a lot of territory with off the ball movement.
Neymar now roams the entire field showing his work rate and his willingness to constantly stamp his imprint on the game, and he isn’t the selfish showboat he’s made out to be.
Neymar does occasionally dive in the penalty box or in other areas around the field, but at the same time, Neymar is subjected to constant fouling and reckless tackles, which require Neymar to jump and pull up his knees to avoid injury.
There is diving in soccer, and players do go down in the penalty box with minimal contact to try to win a penalty kick. This is one of the things about soccer that annoys non-soccer fans and soccer fans alike, but, to avoid injury, Neymar frequently needs to jump, pull up his knees, and then roll to break his fall.
While they are cases of Neymar diving or simulating, there is also ample video evidence of Neymar being hacked and fouled.
Neymar probably ignores the fact that many people label him a diver because he knows he has avoided so many injuries by jumping and often launching himself clear of nasty tackles.
In addition to be labeled by some as a diver, many people call Neymar a showman who is all hype and unproven on the European battleground.
Let critics say that.
They also call Mario Balotelli a head case with a bad attitude who hasn’t produced; his club and international record even at Euro 2012 say otherwise.
There seems to be some unknown motivation behind criticism of Neymar, but whatever the reasons are, Neymar would appear to be a nice person who forms strong bounds with his teammates.
Neymar never brags about his abilities or makes disparaging comments about great players to whom he is compared.
Neymar is a joy to watch because all of his trickery and magic is effective in losing defenders, getting free to make a pass, creating scoring chances, and scoring goals.
It’s very unlikely that the best soccer player in Brazil who has played against so many elite opponents from all over the world even as a teenager would flop in European soccer or not be able to adapt.
Neymar has already learned how to play against strong and physical defenders by playing against Dedé, not to mention the other Seleção defenders he faces in practice for international games.
After playing against Dedé and Thiago Silva, no defender in Europe is going to present some unseen level of physicality, strength, and defensive skill.
Critics who go as far as calling Neymar all hype and unproven because he doesn’t play in Europe, as opposed to reasonably criticizing areas of his game to improve, are just gas bags.
*Note: Lionel Messi was not included in this list because the list is intended to be a Best XI of players who are young prodigies who are new to the scene or underrated. Lionel Messi is widely considered the best player in the world, and he belongs on a list of simply the Best XI.
*Note: Leonardo Bonucci seemed to not really be young enough or underrated enough to be part of this list. Bonucci would likely be the starting center back with Thiago Silva on a World’s Best XI list. Salvatore Sirigu is older than some of the other players because he is a goalkeeper, and 25 is fairly young for an elite goalkeeper.
The World’s Best XI: The Young, The Underrated, The Sleepers, and the The Newcomers
*Many people may call the formation above narrow, but anyone who thinks that should try breaking down the back six players or stopping the five attackers. This formation uses two center forwards (a.k.a. first-strikers)
Many of the top, so-called “young” goalkeepers are around 25 years old, and this is the case with Salvatore Sirigu. The Italian Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper was part of the project to stock Paris Saint-Germain with elite players to bring PSG back to elite status and prominence, and the fact that Sirigu was sought out says a lot about his ability. Based on Salvatore Sirigu’s play with Paris Saint-Germain, the Azzurri net will be in good hands when Gigi Buffon retires or is unavailable. Tall and athletic with good reflexes, Sirigu fits right into a club team stocked full of world-class players.
Right Back: Raphaël Varane (Real Madrid; France)
Raphaël Varane is a 19 year old starting center back for Real Madrid who can play anywhere in the defense and even as a central midfielder. Varane’s ability and defensive prowess have stood out on more than one occasion while playing against the pass masters of Barcelona, not to mention Lionel Messi. Tall, skilled, fast, and 19, Varane will be the cornerstone of Real Madrid’s and France’s defense for years to come. There’s a new crop of elite defenders on the world stage, and Raphaël Varane is one of the best defenders in the world regardless of age. Varane was an easy and automatic pick for a Best XI list of new, young, or underrated players.
Center Back: Dedé (Vasco da Gama; Brazil)
Dedé is widely regarded as the best Brazilian defender playing in Brazil, and perhaps only Thiago Silva is a better Brazilian defender than Dedé. Dedé is an enormous human being, especially for a soccer player, and his technical ability and dexterity with his feet is not hindered by his height and incredible physical strength. Until Dedé plays outside of Brazil in Europe, he will continue to be underrated, but Dedé is wanted by almost every top club in the world. All the hype about Dedé is true, and the stamp of authenticity is the almost universal belief among the Brazilian people that Dedé is the best defender playing in Brazil. Dedé is an imposing figure and a scary individual. Dedé will be feared for years.
Left Back: Angelo Ogbonna (Torino; Italy)
Angelo Ogbonna, like Dedé and Varane, is the most sought after young defender in the world. Ogbonna is a world-class athlete with natural technical ability who runs and moves with grace. Ogbonna plays as a center back or left back, and whoever buys Ogbonna from Torino will be dropping a lot of cash. Expected to partner with Leonardo Bonucci in the center of the Italian defense, watching Ogbonna in action is quite the sight to see. Ogbonna is easily one of the very best defenders in the world.
Central Midfielder: Paul Pogba (Juventus; France)
The French midfielder playing for Juventus like several of his countrymen on this list is a teenage prodigy who was ready to play at the highest level the first time he was given the chance. Pogba is a central midfielder that gives a team everything: passing, defense, speed, goals, running, vision, strength, and mental toughness. Pogba’s skill-set is not confined to a single midfield position, as Pogba has everything. Pogba has no single position that can be classified as his natural position, except that he is a central midfielder. Pogba’s play at Juventus as a teenager speaks for itself, and his spectacular highlights in addition to overall performances throughout games make Pogba already one of the best midfielders in the world. Read more about Paul Pogba here:
Central Midfielder: Paulinho (Corinthians; Brazil)
Paulinho has garnered worldwide praise for his play at Corinthians, and he is now a fixture on the Brazilian national team where he (along with Ramires) wears the number 8 of the box-to-box midfielder. The Seleção has played Ramires and Paulinho together as two box-to-box midfielders on some occasions as opposed to using a box-to-box midfielder with the more defensive number 5 or cabeça de área who roams the back of the midfield in front of the defensive back four. Given Paulinho’s overall ability and strong defensive skills in addition to his speed and stamina, many clubs have sought out Paulinho’s services, none with more determination than Inter Milan. Paulinho is a complete central midfielder who provides everything: defensive coverage, quality passing, speed, technical ability, 1v1 ability, and goals.
Attacker: Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich; Germany)
Thomas Müller started for Germany and scored five World Cup goals and provided three assists at the age of 20 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Additionally, Müller is a starter for Bayern Munich where he plays the role of two players as a playmaker and a striker. Still, Thomas Müller has his share of critics, even though his record speaks for itself and his ability is self-evident by anyone who looks at it. There are those who are already pushing for Marco Reus or Tony Kroos to take his starting spot for Germany, but Müller won the World Cup Golden Boot at age 20 in a tournament where many professionals complained that the official ball was difficult to control. Müller has speed, creativity, two-footed skill and finishing ability, exceptional passing, and a nose for goal. 126 appearance for Bayern Munich and 44 goals plus 39 appearances for Germany and 11 goals at 23 years old speak for themselves.
Playmaker: Oscar (Chelsea; Brazil)
Neymar gave Oscar the nickname, “Oscraque,” while Neymar was still playing with the playmaking prodigy, Ganso, and that’s all anyone needs to know about Oscar. Oscar stepped into English Football like it was nothing, despite all the naysayers saying the physicality of the English Premier League would be hard for Oscar to deal with. Oscar was not the first world-class playmaker to grace the English Premier League, but he did put everyone in the English Premier League on notice that there was a young Brazilian prodigy orchestrating the attack for Chelsea with a level of skill and creativity nowhere to be found in the EPL.
Attacker: Neymar (Santos; Brazil)
This writer has never seen a player who attacks defenders like Neymar or who has the same 1v1 dribbling ability, and this includes Pelé, Diego Maradona, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Neymar will be the best player in the world soon, but the incredible skill of Mario Balotelli (discussed below) should not go overlooked. Neymar’s dribbling ability is already at a level really unseen before, even be Ronaldinho. While Ronaldinho destroyed defenders at pace or from a standstill in his prime, Neymar seems to combine two to three tricks in one sequence, which are effective and not just for show. Much of the focus on Neymar is his speed, quickness, incredible dribbling skill, and his goal-scoring ability with both feet, but Neymar is a magnificent passer who goes all over the field to receive the ball and play excellent passes to his teammates. Words do not do Neymar justice, and Neymar must be seen on video or in person to fully appreciate. Neymar is a sight to behold, and he will eclipse Messi, even when one looks at video of Messi in his prime. With all of the new talent on the world scene, Neymar might not receive four Ballons d’Or as Messi has, but Neymar’s skill looks more complete than Messi’s. Read more about Neymar here:
With the exception of Neymar, Mario Balotelli is possibly the best player of his generation skill-wise, and he lives to silence his critics in big games. Super Mario is almost always more technically-skilled than his teammates or opponents, and his size and athleticism are a new frontier in world soccer. A first striker in the mold of Ronaldo, Balotelli is also a dead ball specialist. Balotelli strikes fear into the hearts of his opponents, and his so-called mental problems and off field problems are normally pure fiction. Now back at the club that he supported as a child, AC Milan, where he is performing well, Balotelli should no longer have to answer his critics after his masterclass against Germany in the semifinal of UEFA Euro 2012. Mario Balotelli is without a doubt the most talented first-striker since Ronaldo and Thierry Henry. Balotelli’s only competition for the title of the best first-striker in the world is his teammate, M’Baye Niang. Perhaps, Niang possesses better 1v1 dribbling skills than Balotelli, but Balotelli’s are off the charts. Read more about Mario Balotelli here:
M’Baye Niang is a 6’4” teenage striker who combines supersonic speed with a magnetic first touch and 1v1 skills and tricks that are only rivaled by Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Mario Balotelli. Many observers cannot discuss M’Baye Niang without discussing Mario Balotelli because of obvious physical similarities, but M’Baye Niang is a prodigy and a phenomenon in his own right. Niang uses both feet interchangeable, and he attacks defenders and plays at one speed: full speed. Keep an eye on M’Baye Niang because in his first Champions League game, which was against Barcelona, he left Carles Puyol for dead and was the catalyst of the second and decisive goal. Niang is an elegant player who provides electrifying and effective play. Like Mario Balotelli, M’Baye Niang is a first-striker in the style of Ronaldo and Thierry Henry. Niang also looks to be a player who excels at dead balls and passing. Unlike his teammate Mario Balotelli, Niang appears to enjoy tracking back on defense to hound the opposition and regain possession.
Lucas Moura is another electrifying young talent whose skill is unquestioned. Lucas electrifies with his speed, skill, dribbling, and overall attacking skill. Lucas should be an almost certain starter for the Seleção in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Although Grandmaster Ronaldinho is currently playing very well for Atlético Mineiro in the Brasileirão where he has them in first place, Neymar is now very much the face of Brazilian soccer. While Neymar garners the majority of the headlines, players likes Ronaldinho, Diego, Robinho, or Kaká should not be considered irrelevant or ineffective players for the Brazilian national team.
Neymar has excellent passing skills, but he is not a meia-armador or central attacking midfielder or playmaker like Ronaldinho, Ganso, Oscar, or Diego are. Although some of Brazil’s more established players are in their thirties (such as Maicon, Ronaldinho, and Lúcio), Brazil has several excellent players in their mid to late twenties such as Thiago Silva, Robinho, and Diego.
Neymar has already arrived on the world stage as an elite international and club soccer player, and he is very much worthy of comparisons to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Both Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (called this out of respect for Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima) are widely considered by all of their peers and coaches around the world as the two most skilled players in world soccer. Neymar is different than both of these players in that Neymar has no observable flaws in his game, even at 20 years old.
Unlike Messi, Neymar is a more versatile passer who does not limit his passing to short passes inside the penalty box when he can no longer dribble through traffic. Messi does play quality long passes through and over the opposing teams’ defenses, but Neymar seems to do this more often. Neymar will track back almost to his own defense at times to get the ball, and he looks to play through balls, quick first-time passes, cross-field passes, and soft chips over opposing players and over the top of the opponent’s defense. Messi has never demonstrated this same degree of passing range or skill because Messi mostly plays by dribbling through defenses after his teammates at Barcelona have played keep away from their opponents.