FORTALEZA, July 2-As Brazil erupted when Chile’s Gonzalo Jara struck the post to hand La Selecao an agonising passage to the World Cup quarter-finals on penalties, their star player Neymar collapsed in the centre-circle in tears.
His reaction a mixture of joy, relief and exhaustion, the 22-year-old is carrying the burden of a expectant nation of 200 million people as well as anyone could have hoped.
He has scored four times in as many games and also coolly slotted home Brazil’s fifth and final penalty in the shootout.
However, the image of a weeping and clearly hobbled Neymar, having receiving numerous heavy challenges throughout the game, begs the question how long Brazil can continue to depend solely on the Barcelona man in attacking areas?
“We really suffered. It was pure emotion. My tears after the game were of happiness,” Neymar said after the Chile game.
“Today I had everything. I took a knock, I had cramp. Now all I want to do is rest.”
Neymar will be fit for Friday’s quarter-final against Colombia, the Brazilian Football Federation have confirmed despite injuries to his thigh and hamstring.
Who will start alongside him remains a question though as neither of their two principal centre-forwards Fred and Jo have impressed in the competition so far.
Fred does have one goal to his name, a header from point-blank range into an empty net against Group A whipping boys Cameroon, but was dragged off for Jo with Brazil in need of a goal against both Chile and Mexico.
The Fluminense striker has come in for some fierce criticism, most notably from former England captain and fellow number nine Alan Shearer.
“I just don’t understand why Brazil are still picking him,” Shearer said after Fred’s first two disappointing performances.
“He doesn’t move, he doesn’t shoot and he’s dragging the team down. I don’t know if Brazil should change the system or play Neymar as a false nine, but the fact is that Fred is not the answer for what they are doing now.”
One obvious factor keeping Fred’s place in the side, though, is that Jo’s form has been just as bad.
The former Manchester City man fluffed a great chance within minutes of his entrance against Chile and the fact he wasn’t among Brazil’s five penalty takers spoke volumes.
The storied history of Brazilian strikers at the World Cup also doesn’t bode well for Neymar and company if Fred and Jo don’t come good.
Despite a stellar supporting cast including Zico and Socrates, the much-maligned Serginho failed to fire them to victory in 1982.
When Brazil have succeeded, their star man has always had a wing-man. Pele had Vava, Garrincha and Jairzinho in his three triumphs, Bebeto partnered Romario in 1994 and Ronaldo led a three-pronged attack with Rivaldo and Ronaldinho in 2002.
Given Neymar’s fantastic record of 35 goals in 53 appearances for his country has come in the main from starting in his preferred role on the left side means he is unlikely to move more central as Shearer suggested.
The only other option available to Luiz Felipe Scolari would be to use Hulk as a battering ram centre forward and bring an extra creative player like Willian or Bernard into the side.
Scolari’s loyalty to his trusted soldiers makes it more likely he will give Fred and Jo one last go for the quarter-final against Colombia at least.
Whether that loyalty is finally rewarded or proves folly will be decided in the heat of Fortaleza on Friday.