(Reuters) - Brazil qualified for the World Cup quarter-finals with a 2-0 win over Mexico on Monday in a game that showcased both the sublime and the ridiculous sides of Brazilian superstar Neymar.
The world’s most expensive footballer scored the first and made the second in a scintillating match that took Brazil into a last eight showdown with either Belgium or Japan.
Willian did damage thanks to surging runs that put a spirited Mexico side on the back foot but it was Neymar’s creativity that brought goals.
He stretched the Mexican defence with a run across the penalty box after 51 minutes, before wrong-footing them with a Socrates-esque back heel to Willian and then continuing his run to get on the end of his pass and score the opener.
Two minutes from time, his poked shot beat goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and Roberto Firmino was on hand to prod it home to seal the result.
Neymar’s influence was clear in stats that showed that in Russia he has attempted more shots and created more goalscoring chances than any other player.
In between, however, fans also saw the Neymar everyone loves to hate.
The Paris St Germain player has become a synonym for petulance and he gave an example of why with 72 minutes gone.
Neymar had been fouled and was on the ground with the ball between his feet in front of the technical area.
Mexican Miguel Layun came to take the ball and sneakily put his toe on Neymar’s ankle.
Neymar yelped in pain and writhed around on the ground, even though it appeared obvious that Layun, whose heel was on the ground, could not have put any real weight on his opponent.
The position of Layun’s boot was not clear on TV replays and Neymar was slated for his histrionics.
“He”s wriggling around as if a crocodile has bitten him,” BBC commentator Conor McNamara said. “It’s as if he has lost a limb.”
Neymar has undoubtedly been the victim of some tough tackling at his World Cup. Another stat showed the 23 fouls he suffered in Brazil’s four games is more than anyone else in the tournament.
The playacting and diving, though, have made him a figure of mockery, especially in Europe.
Former Manchester United player Eric Cantona devoted several social media posts to ridiculing the Brazilian in recent days.
In the latest, he dubbed a brand of luggage on wheels Neymar because “you barely touch it and it turns round and round for hours”.
But many are tired of the theatrics, not least Mexican coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who criticised a nameless player for “too many faking fouls”.
Reporting by Andrew Downie, editing by Neil Robisnon