Battered Neymar holds nerve in Brazil triumph

Battered Neymar holds nerve in Brazil triumph
Neymar celebrates at the end of the penalty shootout after the extra time in the round of 16 football match between Brazil and Chile at The Mineirao Stadium on Saturday. AFP Photo/POOL/Francois
BELO HORIZONTE: Neymar left the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte battered and bruised but relieved after holding his nerve to score from the spot in Brazil's dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Chile.

The World Cup hosts progressed to the quarter-finals 3-2 on penalties after an epic contest had ended 1-1 over 90 minutes and extra time.

And Neymar, the 22-year-old on whose shoulders rests much of the expectation of a nation of 200 million people, survived a crunching challenge from Chile's Charles Aranguiz with the game just four minutes old to play on and show that he could handle the enormous pressure.

"We really suffered. It was pure emotion. My tears after the game were of happiness," Neymar told journalists on his way out of the ground on Saturday.

"We know that it was not one of our best matches but the desire to win and get through to the next round that we showed was huge. It was the most I have ever suffered in football.

"Today I had everything. I took a knock, I had cramp. Now all I want to do is rest."
The striker, who has scored an already remarkable tally of 35 goals in 53 appearances for his country, insisted that he played without fear despite the pressure on him and his team throughout.

"I felt no fear. Fear removes the desire to win. We knew that we would be playing a great team, but there was no fear," he said.

'Neymar so strong mentally'

With the shoot-out level at 2-2, the Barcelona player stepped forward to take Brazil's fifth penalty.

Had he missed, Chile could have won the tie with their next kick, but he sent his future club colleague Claudio Bravo the wrong way.

The pressure transferred to Chile defender Gonzalo Jara, who smashed his kick off the post to send Brazil into the last eight.

Neymar cried tears of joy and relief while the hosts' coach Luiz Felipe Scolari praised his player's mental strength.

"He is 22 but he plays as if he were 35. He handles the pressure naturally. He is so strong mentally and you could see even when we was 17 or 18 that he was ready," said Scolari.

"He just enjoys playing football. He took that penalty as though he were having a kick-about at home in Santos."

Neymar may appear frail physically, but he showed great strength just to be able to continue playing after Aranguiz's challenge, which left the forward requiring medical treatment for a blow to the thigh.

"We need to evaluate it but we should have three, four or five days to try and make sure he can play the next game," said a hopeful Scolari, as Brazil prepare for a quarter-final against Colombia in Fortaleza next Friday, July 4.

Scorer of a brace in the 3-1 win against Croatia that kicked off Brazil's campaign before adding another two goals in last Monday's 4-1 defeat of Cameroon, Neymar did not have the same influence for long spells against Chile.

In a lively first-half performance he saw a 36th-minute header deflected just wide with the scores at 1-1, but he faded almost completely from the game for much of the second half, leaving Hulk to play the role of Brazil's most dangerous player.

However, Neymar stepped forward when he was needed the most, and Brazil can be relieved that he avoided picking up a yellow card that would have seen him miss the clash with Colombia.