FThe world association (FIFA) has laid down a strict protocol for the period after the football World Cup in Qatar. In the so-called “Mixed Zone”, all the players who want to speak talk to the journalists. And in the press conference appear the coaches plus the player of the match. In the night from Thursday to Friday local time, however, in the catacombs of the final stadium in Lusail, Rodrigo Lasmar was suddenly sitting in front of a microphone – and speaking. A FIFA spokesman said earlier that questions were not allowed. So what was so important that the rules were broken?
The short answer to that is: Neymar! Lasmar gave the long one with a serious expression. After Brazil’s 2-0 win over Serbia at the start of the World Cup, he brought news from the dressing room. Because the star of the team, the number ten, the great hope for the first world title since 2002, had gotten it, possibly badly. “Neymar has sprained his right ankle. We started treatment immediately and will have to wait 24 to 48 hours before we can say more. We don’t have an MRI appointment (magnetic resonance therapy/red.) yet.”
Neymar was substituted in the 79th minute. Previously he had sat on the lawn, the supervisors had taken care of him. He had suffered the injury eleven minutes earlier. But there it was only 1-0 after a goal from Richarlison (62nd). “Neymar felt the pain but he decided he would keep playing because the team needed him. That was remarkable,” said coach Tite. It wasn’t until Richarlison made it 2-0 with a spectacular side kick (73′) and victory seemed certain that it was time for Neymar to sit down and ask for his substitution.
“You can be sure of that”
He continued to be treated on the bench, tears welled up in his eyes, he pulled his jersey over his head and touched his foot. After the final whistle he hobbled into the dressing room, his ankle was quite swollen. When exiting through the mixed zone, Neymar said nothing, but let the pictures do the talking. The king of drama is back. Tite doesn’t think that it was his last appearance at this World Cup. “Neymar will continue to play in the World Cup, you can be sure of that,” he said, mainly in the direction of the worried Brazilian journalists, one of them in the Neymar shirt.
The star had made the co-favorite’s first appearance his stage. Not just athletic. As the teams took to the pitch to warm up, the captain came as a latecomer to savor the full attention of the ecstatic fans. Even when it was the second half and players and referees were ready, everyone had to wait for him. In the game he showed class, but didn’t excel. He shot three times on goal, only 33 of his 42 passes found the teammate, he didn’t even win half of his duels and had to take nine fouls from the Serbs. In one of these duels, the offensive player from Paris St. Germain suffered the potentially serious injury.
So does this tournament also end in drama for the now thirty-year-old? In 2014 at the World Cup on his own country, he suffered a fractured lumbar vertebra when a Colombian fouled him. He saw the 1:7 in the semifinals against Germany as a spectator. Before the 2018 tournament, a broken foot healed just in time to take part in the World Cup, where he attracted attention with absurd acting, never reached his top level and lost to Belgium with Brazil in the quarterfinals. Neymar missed out on winning the 2019 Copa America title on home soil after torn ligaments in the ankle of his right foot just before the start. Is history repeating itself in Qatar?
In all the hubbub surrounding Neymar, Richarlison’s impressive display, who scored the two goals on Thursday, was all but lost. Richarlison was also asked by journalists about the star’s injury. “I told him to take a lot of ice so he’ll be fit again soon,” said the Tottenham Hotspur striker. He himself was impressed by his artistic feat. “It was a beautiful goal, it was acrobatic – probably one of the best of my career and of the tournament,” he said. After a cross with the outside of Vinicius Júnior, he put the ball in front of himself in the air, turned around and volleyed the ball while falling. A masterpiece of football art.
The game didn’t go well for him for a long time. In the first half, the Serbs defended very concentrated and left little room for the highly acclaimed Brazilian offensive. The number nine didn’t like that either. Center forward Richarlison asked for support. “I told my colleagues at half-time that I needed balls,” he said. “And I promised them: If I get balls, I will score.” No sooner said than done. At the opening goal in the 63rd minute it was still a rather despicable dust-off, just under ten minutes later everything a football heart desires. Remarkable: Brazil won all 15 international matches in which he scored.
Nevertheless, he was, once again, in Neymar’s shadow. Before the second game against Switzerland on Monday (5 p.m. CET in the FAZ live ticker for the soccer World Cup, on ARD and on MagentaTV), everything revolves around the number ten, who still needs two goals to set Pelé’s record set in the Seleção. During the night he reported philosophically via Instagram. He posted a page in the book with the caption, “Have faith”: “That’s what believing that despite the chaos, all will be well. That is the certainty that the best is yet to come. It is the understanding that everything has its time.” The doctor will soon tell him how much time Neymar has left at this World Cup.