Neymar finds his joy in WC qualifiers
Neymar's start to the 2021-22 season with Paris Saint-Germain has been tepid at best but against Uruguay in the World Cup qualifier, the fleet-footed forward reminded the world why he is still such a special footballer.
Neymar was unplayable throughout the match and as well as his goal - which took him to 70 overall on the international stage - Brazil's main man contributed two assists, created four big chances and played eight key passes.
The 29-year-old Neymar, who had a disappointing performance in Sunday's 0-0 draw at Colombia in the previous round. arrived in the northwest Brazilian city of Manaus on Monday with dozens of fans in front of the team's hotel. That would be the usual, were it not for a wave of criticism he has faced at home for months.
Neymar's game was full of joy. Deft touches, passes on to feet that arrived at just the right time, sharp movement and the flicks and turns that left Uruguay defenders dazzled. Brazil took the lead after 10 minutes when Neymar chested down a pass from Fred and rounded the keeper before firing low between two defenders on the goal-line.
Raphinha made it 2-0 after 18 minutes when he bundled home a parried shot from close range and then made it 3-0 after 58 minutes, completing a superb counterattack with an angled shot. Brazil are now six points clear in the South American qualifying group, ahead of second-placed Argentina who beat Peru 1-0 on Thursday.
Raphinha, who himself shone in the match, praised Neymar's performance on Thursday. "Playing with Ney was very easy. I am a big fan of his, I take a lot of inspiration from him, in the way he plays and dribbles the opposition," Raphinha said. "I watch a lot of his videos. To have played alongside is a dream coming true."
With 70 international goals, Neymar is now just seven goals shy off Pele's record. "A giant by nature," Neymar said in the caption of an Instagram picture of himself celebrating.