Neymar a hero but that may not solve woes

Neymar opened the scoring with this free kick.
Neymar opened the scoring with this free kick.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Neymar slotting the winning penalty kick past Timo Horn in the shoot-out to let Brazil claim the coveted gold medal.
Neymar slotting the winning penalty kick past Timo Horn in the shoot-out to let Brazil claim the coveted gold medal.PHOTO: REUTERS

RIO DE JANEIRO • After a roller-coaster Olympics for the hosts, it took just one kick of a ball from Brazil's poster boy Neymar to make a nation's dream come true.

The forward finally succeeded where the likes of Ronaldo and Ronaldinho had failed when he coolly slotted the winning penalty kick into the top corner.

The tearful Barcelona star also struck a stunning free kick in the final to open the scoring, taking his tally to four goals in the last three games.

However, it was far from a smooth ride to gold for him.

The 24-year-old was roundly criticised and Brazil booed off the pitch as they were held to 0-0 draws by South Africa and Iraq in their opening two games.

One young boy's decision to scratch out Neymar's name on the back of his shirt to replace it with captain of the Brazil women's team Marta went viral.

While Neymar has established himself as undoubtedly one of the best players in the world and won the Champions League and two La Liga titles with Barcelona, his success on the pitch has been overshadowed by off-field difficulties.

Prosecutors in both Spain and Brazil have gone after him and his father on charges of tax fraud.

His prickly relationship with the media also looks set to continue. "Now they'll (the critics) have to swallow what they said," he declared after the final.

And even though he has delivered the gold the host nation in need of a hero most desired, he seems to have been scarred by the earlier backlash, telling Brazil's SporTV in the midst of Saturday's celebrations: "It was an honour to be captain, but from today I am no longer captain."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2016, with the headline 'Neymar a hero but that may not solve woes'. Print Edition | Subscribe