Brazil ’14: The semifinals, sans Neymar

Neymar is overrated. Neymar is underrated. Aren’t those sentences fun to read?

We love to click on the links that nail star players on the extreme ends of spectrums. While it’d be more exciting for me to talk smack about Neymar Jr. or talk smack about someone talking smack about Neymar, the most reasonable evaluation of the Brazilian phenom would be a balance between those two narratives.

Something Neymar gets watched too closely for is his skill on the ball. Yeah, it’s pretty dazzling when he makes the ball do figure eights through defenders’ legs. But most of his moves take time to manifest and stall his team’s offense; there were moments in this World Cup when it looked like Brazil could have completed five passes in the time Neymar took to decide which trick he was going to use.

He can be selfish at times, but what gets overlooked about Neymar’s skillset is his passing. When he’s not dancing around the ball, he delivers aerial dimes via corners and free kicks as well as accurate passes on the ground.

So instead of calling him overrated or writing the clichéd “he’s so overrated he’s underrated” diagnosis, I’m going to settle with labeling Neymar as mischaracterized. He can be a wiz as a dribbler, but what’s just as valuable is his playmaking for teammates.

There were days in my past when I didn’t cheer for ol’ junior. He tends to jump back and forth over the line between using mesmerizing maneuvers productively and using them when glaringly unnecessary. He falls over. A lot (though, I’ve since noted that he, having the frame of a somewhat intimidating eighth grader, probably can’t help it).

But watching him in this World Cup shook my perception of him (as I’m sure he’d like to be made aware of); he continued to tip over from the softest challenges from defenders, and he maintained his approach of implementing risky tricks into his team’s offense. Yet with the amount of pressure that swarms him every second as he takes a breath and looks into the crowd of his compatriots – all of whom have “seeing Neymar lead Brazil to a trophy” high on their bucket lists – it’s difficult not to admire the 22-year-old’s guts every time he attempts to pull off a stylish feat with the ball. Moreover, he brought the necessary creativity that this oddly uninventive Brazilian squad needed.

Brazil winger Neymar


And in it’s most difficult battle yet, Brazil will be without its star man due to injury.

The optimist would preach this to Brazil: against teams that play four at the back and attempt to dominate possession (as Germany does), the hosts have looked more promising. Against Germany, Brazil will have more favorable counterattacks than it did against defensive sides such as Mexico and Chile. And Germany’s major flaw (speed defending the wings) could work well for Brazil, which persistently carries Dani Alves and Marcelo into the offense down the sides.

The problem for the hosts is this: Germany has been the best passing team this tournament and has looked the most comfortable with the ball, and it’s hard to defend against without a full supply of focus and energy. Those two keys will be hard to acquire without Neymar and the team’s best defender, Thiago Silva (due to a yellow card suspension, of all things).

If Germany is as slow to create chances as it was against Algeria a couple rounds ago, Brazil will have a chance to apply pressure defensively and transition that energy into goals. Yet Germany is the deeper, more fit, and more technically sound team, and will likely end the World Cup journey for the home side.