Neymar’s two-goal performance against Cameroon on Monday made it hard to believe that barely one year ago there were serious doubts as to whether he was mature enough to lead Brazil’s challenge for a sixth World Cup.
Until last year’s Confederations Cup, Neymar was still playing his domestic football in Brazil and had struggled in his rare outings against European teams.
With nearly a dozen sponsorship contracts to his name, a legion of adoring fans and the beach on his doorstep, there were worries that Neymar had taken the soft option by staying with Santos in Brazil.
Europeans wondered what all the fuss about and there were question marks over whether he could handle the enormous pressure of playing for Brazil in a World Cup on home soil.
One year on, three games and four goals into the World Cup, Neymar has shown that it is all water off a duck’s back.
On Monday, he produced another sparkling performance, including two superbly-taken first-half goals, to help Brazil beat Cameroon 4-1 and reach the last 16.
There was a sense of anticipation and danger every time he got the ball and plenty of glimpses of the famous tricks which have led to complaints of show-boating in the past.
He sent the crowd into raptures by nonchalantly flicking the ball over a bemused Cameroon defender and tried to emulate former Mexico forward Cuauhtemoc Blanco’s trick of hopping past a defender with the ball between his ankles.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” Neymar told reporters after winning the man-of-the-match award.
“I’ve always said there is no pressure when you are fulfilling a dream. This is something I have dreamed about since I was young, I’ve dreamed all my life about playing in matches like this.”
Neymar’s confidence was boosted with an outstanding performance in last year’s Confederations Cup, which Brazil won, and he then took the plunge by making the move to Europe with his transfer to Barcelona.
His first season in Spain had highs and lows and was punctuated by two injuries, although this may have been a blessing as it reduced excessive expectations and meant that he did not arrive at the World Cup exhausted.
Far from show-boating, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari praised Neymar for his team spirit and dedication to the less glamorous parts of the game, such as tracking back and marking the opposition’s forwards.
“He is very participative, I have said it many times” Scolari told reporters, adding that much of the credit should go to Muricy Ramalho, Neymar’s former coach at Santos.
“Muricy drilled it into him that he must sometimes stop creating and take part in marking when the opposition has the ball, and this is something that people don’t always see” Scolari said.
Scolari also shrugged off suggestions that Brazil may have become over-dependent on the 22-year-old.
“Argentina depend on Messi and others have special players, this is normal,” he said. “Some players are different and they make the difference to any team, not just Brazil.”