Football Features

“Relentless” Neymar and Brazil show us their greatest strength in last-minute Copa America comeback against Colombia

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 3:56, 24 June 2021

In an ill-tempered match, Brazil left it late to beat Colombia 2-1, confirming their status as Group B winners in the 2021 Copa America.

The match was absolutely brutal from start to finish as Colombia, who took the lead in the 10th minute, beat the snot out of the tournament hosts in Rio de Janeiro as they tried desperately to close out the match with a win that would have taken them into first place in the group.

However it was not to be as Brazil equalised in the 82nd minute (a goal not without some controversy) and then won the game right at the death in the 100th minute following an astonishing 10 minutes of stoppage time.

Throughout all of Colombia’s violence, one thing was clear: Neymar would not stop coming. The Brazilian no. 10 took it upon himself to lead his nation’s attacking cause and in the end, was a key figure in turning the game around.

The funny thing about Brazil is that structurally the side is kind of a mess. None of the back four are really exceptional at advancing the ball, neither is goalkeeper Weverton. This places a lot of burden on the defensive midfielders to be ball-movers and they are… Casemiro and Fred.

So in positions where you want the best ball progressors possible, Brazil have got a bunch of workers and defensive players. There’s no one even as sharp as Harry Maguire, and when England have a better ball-playing centre-back than Brazil you know something is going wrong.

What this often means is that if Neymar doesn’t come deep and get the ball off his defenders, Brazil can struggle to even get the ball in the final third. Luckily for Tite, Neymar loves to come deep and get the ball off his defenders and then drive right into the snarling maw of the opponent’s defence, taking on as many defenders as stand in front of him until he either gets a chance for a key pass or shot, or he gets fouled.

Tonight, he got fouled. A lot.

Wilmar Barrios in particular just beat the breaks off the Brazilian, only picking up a yellow card in the 99th minute of course. But really everyone had a go. And it wasn’t just Neymar who got hit, but Neymar definitely had it the worst.

But he just kept on coming.

All of Brazil just kept on coming.

What Tite appears to have drilled into his Brazil side is that if they can’t be good they will at least be absolutely relentless. They will keep on coming at you and coming at you and taking any punishment you can dish out because they believe that eventually their incessant attacks will wear defences down and mistakes will come.

And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.

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Neymar’s ability to take punishment really is legendary. We can all mock his theatrics because frankly they are ludicrous, but when you see the sheer punishment he puts his body through you have to admire the mentality it takes to keep fighting through that.

The Brazilian equaliser came when Neymar tried to force an impossible pass through to Roberto Firmino only for it to strike referee Nestor Pitana and fall right to Lucas Paqueta, the Brazilian sub fed the ball wide to Renan Lodi (another sub) who whipped the ball into the box where Roberto Firmino (yet another sub) headed home.

Well, more accurately he headed it kind of at David Ospina who then, in true Arsenal fashion, kind of gently palmed the ball to the side of him and let it roll pathetically over the line. 1-1 and Brazil had control of the group back.

And of course Colombia were furious that the referee let the game continue despite the obvious advantage his touch gave Brazil while unbalancing Colombia. No word as of yet on if they were angry at the advantage handed to Brazil by David Ospina’s terrible goalkeeping.

Of course, Brazil weren’t done. They kept on coming, pushing for a winner. And even 99 minutes into the game, Neymar was still driving. The Brazilian yet again picked the ball up on halfway and blew by a couple of Colombians before a brutal foul from Barrios (the one that finally saw him booked) took him out. But unfortunately for Colombia, Neymar had already advanced the ball and a Danilo shot went behind for a corner. Which, of course, Neymar got up to take.

His shirt soaked in mud (his second shirt of the night, mind you, as his first one was covered in mud by half-time) Brazil’s no. 10 stepped up and whipped a devastating corner into the near-post where the Colombian rearguard forgot themselves for a brief moment and allowed Casemiro to steal in unmarked at the near-post and guide the ball in.

Bang. 2-1.

And just like that, Brazil won Group B with a game to spare.

And they didn’t win it through clever, canny play or through a wholehearted commitment to “Joga Bonito” – no. They won it through mental strength. They won it because they have Neymar, the second-best player in the world. And sure they used his talent, but what they used just as much was his mental focus. His willingness to put himself through hell just to get the win.

This is what makes Brazil so terrifying. Their best player, their only true artist really, is just as die hard as the rest of their team of workers and warriors. Nothing stops him. You can kick him to pieces but he will keep on getting up and keep on coming at you. Neymar is relentless, Brazil are relentless, and that is how they win.