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Record-breaking Neymar shows he can still do it for Brazil

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Record-breaking Neymar shows he can still do it for Brazil

If Thursday’s opening night of World Cup qualifying in South America posed the question of how long Argentina can count on Lionel Messi, the tour ended Friday with Neymar firmly declaring that he remained an elite player with the right to dream of a final push. for glory in 2026.

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Neymar was awarded an early penalty and picked up a yellow card, but he was at the heart of almost everything Brazil produced in a fine 5-1 home win over Bolivia. He was both bow and arrow, making the play from his position behind the front three and posing a threat for the goal. Twice he swept away balls played from the right, and his two goals put him above Pelé as Brazil’s all-time top scorer – which will seem sacrilege to some, but surely underlines the point that he is a remarkable talent.

Some might have seen this as the moment when the team’s attack would no longer be built around Neymar, who joined the Saudi Pro League to play for Al Hilal. The rise of Vinícius Júnior seems to confirm this view. But with the Real Madrid star missing due to injury, Neymar took the opportunity to point out that rumors of his disappearance had been greatly exaggerated.

It is true that the challenges are more difficult than with Bolivia, which is on paper the easiest of the 18 rounds of this qualifying campaign. Bolivia were the first team to beat Brazil in World Cup qualifying and have beaten them more times than any other opponent. But still at home, at the extreme altitude of La Paz. Away, especially in the tropical heat of Belem — where it was so hot you had to take drink breaks in both halves — they never had a chance.

Under the leadership of coach Gustavo Costas, Bolivia achieved encouraging results in friendly preparation matches. But the coach complained about his team’s difficulty in retaining the ball, resulting in never being able to rest. It was a fatal flaw against a hungry Brazilian team playing its first match under new coach Fernando Diniz.

Supposedly keeping the seat warm until Carlo Ancelotti arrives midway through next year, Diniz could have fun against Bolivia with better resources at his disposal than he’s ever had in his coaching career. He constantly looks to create overloads, bringing a large portion of the team to one half of the field and then shifting the play to the other flank. And with Neymar making the switch and players of the caliber of Rodrygo and Raphinha, Bolivia were torn apart time and time again.

The wingers scored the first three, with Raphinha firing either side of a Rodrygo double. And then, to his great joy, Neymar added the last two. The only negative note from the Brazilian attack went to centre-forward Richarlison, who appears to lack form, confidence and luck. Goalkeeper Guillermo Viscarra made a good save to block one of his headers, and thereafter his attempts to get on the scoresheet became increasingly desperate. The Tottenham man cut a sad figure on the bench after his withdrawal.

And there are reasons to be concerned about how Brazil reacted to an offensive shift from Bolivia. For much of the match, goalkeeper Éderson’s only concern was a back pass from Marquinhos that he poorly controlled at a corner. But in the final 20 minutes, Bolivia removed center forward Marcelo Moreno and started the more mobile Victor Abrego. and the newcomer’s pace posed problems. Abrego managed to slip into space behind Arsenal defender Gabriel, making his Brazil debut, and scored with a wonderfully struck shot at the near post. Diniz’s teams are sometimes accused of leaving themselves open defensively, and it will be interesting to see if stronger opponents can take advantage of this.

On goal difference, Brazil are therefore top of the table at the end of the first round, followed by Uruguay, who beat Chile 3-1 in Montevideo.

It was a meeting of Uruguay’s new coach, Marcelo Bielsa, with his former father and assistant, Eduardo Berizzo. In an attempt to prevent Uruguay from gaining momentum through their attacking full-backs, Berizzo placed his attackers wide. But once Manuel Ugarte won the midfield for the Uruguayans, they were able to successfully force their way through. Darwin Núñez led the offensive line well, either passing the last defender or using his back-to-goal skills to bring others into the game, and the Uruguayan attacking midfielders ran wild. Nico de La Cruz scored twice and Federico Valverde once as they took a three-goal lead, with Arturo Vidal giving Chile some consolation.

There isn’t much time left for excess joy or despair now that the first round is over – the second round will take place on Tuesday.

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