Brazilian star Neymar went from zero to hero in a thrilling 2-0 FIFA World Cup win over Costa Rica on Friday night (AEST) that reduced the world’s most expensive player to tears.
Neymar sobbed uncontrollably following the final whistle after netting one of Brazil’s two stoppage-time goals in a dramatic victory in Saint Petersburg.
Brazil peppered Costa Rica’s goal but were headed for a second successive draw, placing its hopes of exiting Group E in some danger, before the dramatic late show.
The five-time World Cup winners were awarded a 78th-minute penalty when referee Bjorn Kuipers pointed to the spot after contact between Neymar and Giancarlo Gonzalez.
It was very minor contact, though, and after being prompted to look at the replay by the video assistant referee, Kuipers reversed his decision, having watched Neymar theatrically throw himself to the ground.
The forward somehow avoided a booking for diving but was yellow carded just moments later anyway, after throwing the ball to the ground in a display of petulance.
But just when it looked like it was not to be for Neymar and Brazil, heaping the pressure on the South American side ahead of a clash against Serbia, Philippe Coutinho broke the deadlock in the 91st minute.
Neymar then sealed the victory with a late tap-in.
— SBS – The World Game (@TheWorldGame) June 22, 2018
And the final whistle produced a flood of tears from Neymar, who, being the posterboy of Brazilian football, was feeling the pressure of his nation.
“We know that Neymar had a difficult injury [broken foot] and he went through a difficult patch. Everybody is happy for him being back,” Coutinho said afterwards.
Also on Friday (local time), Nigeria beat Iceland 2-0 thanks to a pair of Ahmed Musa strikes. Gylfi Sigurdsson missed a late penalty for the losers.
And Switzerland edged a thrilling contest 2-1 against Serbia, Xherdan Shaqiri’s stoppage-time goal settling an end-to-end encounter.
Why England are not happy with the press
England boss Gareth Southgate and defender Kyle Walker were not pleased with the British press after pictures of England’s alleged line-up against Panama were published.
Eagle-eyed media saw assistant manager Steve Holland walking around with a team on a piece of paper at a training session and published photos.
“Obviously any time, if we were to give the opposition the opportunity of having our team it’s a disadvantage to us,” Southgate said.
“So of course our media has to decide whether they want to help the team or not.”
Has England assistant manager Steve Holland just 'revealed' England's starting line-up against Panama?
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) June 22, 2018
Walked added: “I think if you guys [press] try to keep it to yourself and don’t bring it out to the world, because it’s not going to help us come the later stages of the tournament, please, God, we get there.
“All the rest of the world’s seen our team now, if that is the team or if not … as I say, you guys have to do your little bit.
“So if you could just please help us with that it would be polite.”
Football fans in England are seething with the media who they feel deliberately try and undermine the national team at major tournaments but media representatives insist the line-up was in the public interest.
Despite a 10pm (AEST) kick-off on Thursday, 3.2 million Australians (metro + regional reach) watched the Socceroos take on Denmark on SBS.
The average figure during the match was 2.1 million viewers, a huge figure for a network who have benefitted greatly from Optus Sport’s streaming issues at the World Cup.
What a reaction …
— Indy Football (@IndyFootball) June 22, 2018
Musings from Samara …
Was Samara ready to host World Cup football? Probably not.
The city has some nice parts, mainly along the Volga River, but was far too spread out and contained some pretty dodgy areas.
The stadium was miles out of town and is in the middle of nowhere and most Australians who spoke to The New Daily on Friday were pretty pleased to be leaving.
Maybe we were spoiled with Kazan – a truly beautiful city.
Still, Samara was an experience … as was eating horse – a delicacy across Russia but one that your correspondent would not recommend.
Belgium and Tunisia get things under way in Moscow from 10pm (AEST) before Mexico – conquerors of Germany first-up – take on South Korea at 1am.
And then it is the big one as the reigning champions, Germany, knowing defeat will end its tournament, take on Sweden from 4am.
All matches are live on SBS and Optus Sport.