Neymar thrilling as he lives up to billing for Brazil
Talisman grabs two goals as hosts set up second round clash with Chile in Belo Horizonte
It was a night when Neymar delivered yet another reminder of how much the hopes of one nation, and 200m football-mad people, rest on his callow shoulders. Brazil have secured their place in the last 16, and a fascinating meeting with Chile in Belo Horizonte on Saturday awaits, after a wonderful performance from Neymar that included another two goals to add to his World Cup collection.
For periods in the game, especially in the first half, Brazil were far from convincing and the anxiety inside the stadium was tangible. Cameroon started as if affronted by the suggestion that they would have nothing to play for, yet they were unable to contain the irrepressible Neymar.
The question seems to be not so much whether Brazil can win the World Cup but whether Neymar can win it single-handedly for them. It is impossible to overstate his importance to this Brazil team and it was no surprise that Luiz Felipe Scolari withdrew him with 18 minutes remaining. By that point Brazil were well on the way to victory.
Brazil looked much more comfortable in the second half, helped by the introduction of Fernandinho, who had a hand in the third goal and scored the fourth. That Fred, the subject of so much criticism beforehand, also got on the scoresheet completed a highly satisfactory night for Brazil, who were taking part in their 100th World Cup fixture.
There is still work to do and Chile will take encouragement from the way that Cameroon opened Brazil up in the opening 45 minutes, when Joel Matip’s equaliser threatened to spoil the party. Neymar, however, had other ideas. The Barcelona forward is now the competition’s leading scorer with four goals and there is not the slightest indication that he is burdened by the responsibility he carries every time he sets foot on the pitch.
This was the first time that Brazil had gone into the final group game without being sure of their place in the knockout stage since 1978. Not that anyone had given any serious thought beforehand to the possibility that they would fail to get through - the last time that happened was 1966.
Cameroon, on the face of it, ought to have been obliging opponents, yet nothing could have been further from the truth in a first half when Volker Finke’s side played with freedom and courage. Overrun in midfield and vulnerable defensively whenever Cameroon broke forward, Brazil were grateful for the genius that is Neymar at the other end of the pitch.
His opening goal was a beauty. Luiz Gustavo dispossessed Benjamin Moukandjo, after Cameroon tried to play out from the back, and delivered a low inviting centre from the left that picked out Neymar, who opened up his body, allowing the ball to run across him, and expertly picked out the far corner of the net. Neymar came close to doubling Brazil’s lead three minutes later with a vicious left-footed volley and Fred almost bundled in Paulinho’s cross, but Cameroon were far from under siege.
Vincent Aboubakar was causing Brazil problems and it was no real surprise when Cameroon levelled. Thiago Silva had come close to becoming the second Brazil player to score an own goal in these finals when Moukandjo’s corner came off his shoulder and clipped the top of the bar. Good fortune favoured Brazil on that occasion but their luck ran out moments later. Once again the defensive limitations of Dani Alves were exposed as Allan Nyom got away from the Brazil left-back before crossing for the unmarked Matip to score.
The stadium fell silent and Brazil looked anxious. They needed a source of inspiration and Neymar, once again, delivered. Nyom’s poor header landed at the feet of Marcelo, whose first-time pass released Neymar in the inside left channel. Cutting inside, Neymar glided across the edge of the penalty area, sidestepped a challenge from Nicolas N’Koulou and drilled a low shot that went through the Cameroon defender’s legs and beat Itandje inside his near post.
Scolari replaced the hugely disappointing Paulinho with Fernandinho at half-time and the substitution brought instant reward. Showing composure on the edge of the area, the Manchester City midfielder flicked the ball to David Luiz in space on the left and the central defender fired in a flat cross that implored Fred, who had been denied by Itandje moments earlier, to head home. The Fluminense striker made no mistake.
Fernandinho’s night got better five minutes from time. Oscar robbed Stephane Mbia deep inside his own half and, after a neat exchange of passes involving Fred on the edge of the penalty area, Fernandinho broke clear on the left and poked the ball past Itandje.
BRAZIL: 12 Julio Cesar; 2 Dani Alves, 3 Thiago Silva, 4 David Luiz, 6 Marcelo; 8 Paulinho (5 Fernandinho, half-time), 17 Luiz Gustavo, 11 Oscar; 7 Hulk (Ramires, 63 mins), 9 Fred, 10 Neymar (Willian, 71 mins).
CAMEROON: 16 Charles Itandje; 22 Allan Nyom, 3 Nicolas Nkoulou, 21 Joel Matip, 12 Henri Bedimo; 17 Stephane Mbia, 7 Landry Nguemo, 18 Eyong Enoh; 13 Eric Choupo Moting (11 Jean Makoun, 81 mins), 10 Vincent Aboubakar (15 Pierre Webo, 72 mins), 8 Benjamin Moukandjo (20 Edgar Salli, 58 mins).
Yellow cards: Enoh, Salli, Mbia.