Brazil rode a strong second-half performance from Neymar to trump Ecuador 3-0 in CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying action on Thursday, earning their first-ever win on Ecuadoran soil in the process. Gabriel Jesus led the scoring with a brace, but the win was very much on a dominant display from Neymar. He put the team on his back in the second half, scoring the opening goal and putting on an absolute show to will his team to victory.
The first half saw a fairly disjointed-looking Brazil side who struggled to get forward effectively against Ecuador, looking on a whole very similar to when they met in the Copa America Centenario group stage. Just like in that game, Brazil struggled to string much together in attack against Ecuador’s energetic defending, and Ecuador lacked the attacking firepower to take advantage of the holes Brazil were leaving in defense as they threw more players forward.
Unlike that match early in the summer, however, Neymar took this game over in the second half, and he did it in style:
That’s just one of numerous examples of Neymar’s quality on display in the second half of the match, putting the team on his back and forcing the game forward. Ecuador were utterly unprepared for that to happen, and Neymar pretty much single-handedly threw Brazil’s opponents into chaos.
That led to a 72nd-minute penalty that Neymar himself took and scored easily. He followed it up by helping force the foul that saw Ecuador right back Juan Paredes earn his second yellow card, putting the opponent down a man for the rest of the match. From there, Neymar pretty much just played provider, helping create Gabriel Jesus’ first goal and assisting on his extra time exclamation mark to make it 3-0 — but there were still plenty of scintillating individual moments from the Barcelona star.
The performance should help silence many of Neymar’s critics, who call him a poor leader and a bad fit for the captain’s armband with Brazil. Some even have gone so far as to say that he’s a bad fit for Brazil in general, since they seem to force the ball his way when he’s on the pitch. But if Neymar can put in more strong, team-shifting performances like this, the critics will have precious little to complain about.
Now Brazil’s focus turns to Colombia on Tuesday, setting up what should be a very entertaining match between two sides jockeying for positioning in the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying table. Playing on home soil and with momentum on their side, Neymar and Brazil could put on one heck of a show.