In a routine night of football, Brazil beat Venezuela 3-0 in the opening night of the Copa América 2021.
Brazil’s win in Brasilia wasn’t a pulsating powerhouse performance but it was the kind of procession that gave a serious hint that the new hosts and defending champions are the team to beat this summer.
It wasn’t that Brazil were breathtaking, it was simply that they were much, much better than their opponent and this was most readily expressed through Neymar who wasn’t at his best but ended the night with a goal, an assist and a pre-assist (sort of).
Neymar has more to prove than anyone this summer, as Brazil won the Copa without him in 2019 and even as his team-mates look to defend the trophy he has to prove capable of winning the thing after a trio of failures in 2011, 2015 and 2016.
And to that end, he’s started in almost frighteningly routine fashion against a depleted Venezuela side. Obviously the situation with the late Covid-19 outbreak in the Venezuela squad caused a big problem for the side, but it feels as though Neymar would have powered over anyone in his way regardless, that’s how easily dominant he was.
From the off we had the usual bag of Neymar tricks. So he was dipping, drifting, dribbling and diving. He collapsed under his own weight at times but when he had the ball he blew by his opponents as though they weren’t there.
His pitch vision was better than anyone even though Brazil were playing a ludicrous system that saw them essentially abandon midfield. Ordinarily such a system would be a huge problem for final third playmakers, but Neymar still found a way to get the ball into key positions and attack the Venezuelan defence with overwhelming quality.
7 – Seven Brazil's outfield players ended the first half with their average position in the attacking half, while eight outfield players from Venezuela ended with their average position in the defensive half. Opposite. pic.twitter.com/iSJPysChZn
— OptaJoao (@OptaJoao) June 13, 2021
It also helps that he takes a mean set-piece; with his free-kick causing problems and one corner leading to Brazil’s opener as Richarlison’s flick-on was turned in from close range by Marquinhos. It was a smart finish but already you could see Neymar’s influence; and he had played the pass of the game to that point when he threaded a ball in behind the defence only to see Richarlison miss 1-v-1.
In the second-half Brazil won a penalty, and Neymar was the one who stepped up to calmly convert with absolutely no hesitation (despite putting a tonne of hesitation in his run-up to fool the goalkeeper).
Finally, as the game wore down into its final minutes, a simple ball down the line saw Neymar race towards it, make one devastating turn on the ball to leave a defender and a goalkeeper for dead before crossing calmly into Gabigol’s path and allowing the striker to nudge it home for the emphatic 3-0 scoreline victory.
The pair’s “muscles emoji” celebration was funny but also, again, a kind of ominous warning for opponents. Neymar hadn’t been brilliant but managed to massively influence the game anyway. Brazil hadn’t been brilliant but won comfortably anyway. And a squad that could easily have been complacent or unhappy given the circumstances are clearly calm and comfortable and joking around together having just won their opening game of the tournament at a canter.
Yes, Brazil need to get much better, but what is terrifying is that they very much have the ability to do just that. Meanwhile, they are so good that they can beat teams in cruise control thanks massively to their talisman, the second-best player in the world; Neymar.