There were tears from Neymar at the final whistle on Friday after a dramatic period of stoppage time at the end of a tense encounter with Costa Rica. The 26-year-old star had scored his first goal of the tournament and Brazilian fans were breathing a huge sigh of relief.
Costa Rica had remained resilient for 90 minutes and actually created the clearest scoring chances in the first half. Brazil ramped up the pressure in the second half and Neymar had a fantastic opportunity to give his side the advantage, only to see his dipping effort tipped over the crossbar by a brilliant reflex save from Keylor Navas.
Tempers also began to fray as Brazil became increasingly frustrated. With almost ten minutes left on the clock, Neymar almost had the referee convinced he’d been fouled inside the area, falling to the ground after minimal contact and with his arms outstretched for dramatic emphasis. However, Dutch official Bjorn Kuipers consulted with VAR and after watching the replay, cancelled out his initial decision to award the penalty.
Further anguish followed in the 81st minute, when vehement protests from Neymar and Philippe Coutinho earned them both yellow cards. It looked as if the game was destined to become the first 0-0 draw of the World Cup so far, but after the fourth official indicated six minutes of stoppage time, the scoring action arrived at last. Not without some irony, it was the yellow-carded pair who made the difference.
Frustration and anguish turned to joy one minute inside stoppage time, when Coutinho finally prodded Brazil into the lead. Almost the entire team buried the little attacking midfield maestro, having scored two goals in as many games, putting him very much on the radar of fans betting on the goalscorer markets at the World Cup. As Costa Rica desperately threw everything forward looking for a reply, the Brazilians inflicted further punishment right at the death. With their defence split wide open after a swift counter, the deft centre from Douglas Costa was clinically finished by Neymar with the goal at his mercy.
Highly tipped as one of the pre-tournament favourites amongst bookmakers offering options to bet on the Golden Boot winner, Neymar had failed to make his mark in the disappointing draw against Switzerland, who kept him tightly shackled in an encounter that ended in a 1-1 draw. After the goal scored against Costa Rica and the final whistle seconds later, Neymar dropped to his knees with tears in his eyes, emotional evidence of just how much competing at the World Cup means.
Ahead of facing Serbia in their final Group E game, a draw might be enough to take Brazil through to the elimination stage of the World Cup. That said, having now tasted victory, Neymar and his team will certainly have a burning appetite for more wins, especially with the superstar forward keen to win personal honours, just as much as the collective triumphs.
If Neymar is to genuinely make his mark at the 2018 World Cup, then he still has some catching up to do. England and Tottenham Hotspur star Harry Kane currently leads the scoring charts on five goals, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku close behind with four. The biggest surprise so far has arguably been Denis Cheryshev, with the Russian winger currently boasting a tally of three goals. Few betting tipsters fancied his chances ahead of the tournament.
The chase for the Golden Boot is still wide open and there could be many more surprises to come, especially as the tightly contested group phase reaches its conclusion. From there, we’ll probably have a clearer picture of who the leading marksmen might be at the 2018 World Cup, with less guesswork and evidence of form and performances backed by statistics.