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Neymar was absolutely right to flop around and humiliate himself in public

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His flopping was ridiculous, but it was for a reason.

Brazil v Mexico: Round of 16 - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Slowly but surely, game after game, Neymar is growing into the 2018 World Cup. In the Round of 16 against Mexico he weathered a couple of heavy tackles, but he scored the first goal, created the second, and looked dangerous throughout.

Also he did some rolling around on the floor. Let’s talk about the rolling around on the floor.

Midway through the second half, with Brazil a goal to the good, Neymar was bundled over by Miguel Layún just over the touchline. This is generally a pointless place for a player to go down, since the game can go on without them. However, Neymar ended up with the ball between his legs, so Layún went over to retrieve it.

Then Neymar lost it. He squealed. He twitched. He threw himself sideways, then onto his back, then sideways again. Then he went onto his front for a bit. He clutched at his ankle and pounded the floor. He cursed the gods, for delivering him unto this earth that he might suffer. He wept, and the heavens wept to see him. And all around the planet, people wondered: what the hell happened there?

Then we saw the replay. Layún had trodden on his ankle.

To be fair to Neymar, it probably hurt at least a bit. Layún is a fully grown man, and he was wearing spiked shoes. But there was much justified scepticism about whether the reaction was proportionate to the action, or whether Neymar had actively chosen to go full opera. Given that Brazil’s No. 10 trotted back onto the pitch a couple of moments later, and went on to set up another goal, that skepticism looks to have been well-founded.

You’re probably reading this not long after the final whistle. But in that short time, we can be sure that Neymar has been called every possible variation of “you diving [curse word]” that humanity’s hundreds of languages can manage. And that, too, is pretty fair. He looked ridiculous.

But though he was being a clown, he wasn’t being an idiot. Indeed, this is perhaps one part of the game where video reply VAR might lead to an uptick in playacting. The locked-in-the-box video replay referees are always going to take a second look at flying tackles and swinging arms. But the sneaky little pokes, stamps, and other snidery: that needs to be brought to the attention of those watching television.

And how better to draw attention, than to make a spectacle of oneself? Neymar’s contortions were, in essence, an interpretive dance version of these imaginary squares that players have been drawing. Look at me! Look at me! Oh gods, look at me! Now ... look at the tape?

Neymar is often derided as a self-centered egoist. Yet here he was absolutely willing to humiliate himself in front of the watching world, simply to get his team an advantage. His reputation, his dignity, his good name — all torched and gone, all for Brazil. As Jesus said, greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down and scream like a toddler for his friends.

In this case, he got what he deserved in one sense, but not the one he was after. There were millions of people watching the game on TV, but the four he was performing for, off in their bunker in Moscow, were clearly just as unsympathetic as the rest. Still, if there’s a edge to be found, he clearly doesn’t care what anybody on the internet thinks of him. It’s almost like winning a game of football is more important than not being insulted on Twitter.