Neymar swaying to his samba

Neymar is usually the last off the Brazilian team bus here. He waits for all his teammates to make their way down the steps. He pauses. He checks his dyed, spiky hair. He dons the sunglasses.

And then he makes his entrance.

He stops at the top of the bus steps and absorbs the adulation, allows the roar of approval to seep through his pores until it touches a nerve.

Like The Beatles arriving in New York, he waves at the assembled masses waiting for him, posing for photos, smiling that infectious, cherubic, adorable smile.

Outside the stadiums of Sao Paulo, Fortaleza and now Brasilia, his routine is always the same and so is the reaction.

His appearance can make kids cry. He can make their parents weep. He fulfils his purpose. He unites a troubled nation.

Neymar carries the hopes of 200 million people like a father carrying his kid's beach ball along the Copacabana promenade.

At every corner and set-piece yesterday morning, he ordered the Brasilia crowd to raise the roar, dance to his tune, sway to his samba. He is the conductor of an entire country and a conduit for their hopes.

And he is delivering. That's the extraordinary part often brushed aside by the latest billboard posters beaming across the congested highways here.

He's a 22-year-old superstar comfortable in his own celebrity skin, entirely at ease with the expectation.

The more his people demand of him, the more he demands of them; cajoling them into keeping up with him.

He scores four World Cup goals in three games. They must raise the decibels of the Brasilia Stadium accordingly.

He readily acknowledges that he occupies the spotlight of the world's biggest stage, but every man, woman and child in a yellow jersey must play a part.

He is certainly playing his.

Thiago Silva might disagree, but Brazil's uneasy 4-1 victory against Cameroon yesterday morning (Singapore time) - the score flattered the hosts - had the faint echoes of a one-man band.

While the defenders floundered and the central midfielders went walk about, Neymar quietly went about his business of fulfilling a nation's self-prescribed destiny.

His first goal oozed effortless class.

On a rare romp forward, Luiz Gustavo whipped in a low, hard cross that might have spun past a less nimble artist. But Neymar opened his body, turned towards the stand behind the goal, an idol facing his masses, and caressed a first-time, side-footed finish into the bottom corner.

Like a first kiss, his touch was delicate, gentle and just perfect.

But the circumstances of his second goal were just as important as the technique.

Cameroon were on the rise. Hunting down their left side, they smelled uncertainty and indecision. For a brief period, they seriously threatened to take the lead.

Neymar cut them off like a ruthless, methodical surgical removing gangrene limbs.

Olympic Skater

He found room to manoeuvre on the left, he swiveled his hips in a violent fashion not seen since Elvis first sang Heartbreak Hotel. He glided across the turf like an Olympic skater and drifted inside. He presented to shoot one way, but went for the other, confusing goalkeeper Charles Itandje, and firing away into the near bottom corner.

His work as a carrier of a nation's hopes was done by half-time. So he returned to his first love, the role he was born to play; the role that consumes him. He returned to being the superstar.

In the 45th minute, he pulled off cheeky flicks and sublime spins and indulged in some intricate triangle passing with Oscar. He immediately pumped up the volume.

He made the crowd believe. More than that, he inspired memories of 1970. And they loved him for it.

When he went off at half-time of a critical World Cup contest, he posed for photographs with the Cameroonian substitutes, always smiling, always willing.

He wasn't been an unprofessional sportsman. He was being the superstar.

To him, the roles are indistinguishable. He can't be one without the other. They are mutually compatible. They drive each other.

Neymar gives life-affirming oxygen to what is already proving to be the most breathtaking of tournaments.

The superstar owns the global stage. No one wants him to get off, least of all himself.


This article was first published on JUNE 25, 2014.
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