Normally, it would be bad news for soccer fans anywhere if their team’s star player was injured.
But even as they endured an agonizing wait for a Neymar-less Brazil to score in their 1-0 win over Switzerland on Monday, some Brazilians found it hard to miss the injured superstar, who vowed to dedicate his first World Cup goal world far away Right President Jair Bolsonaro.
Watching the match in a packed bar in downtown Rio de Janeiro, where fans dressed in yellow and green waited nervously for what turned out to be the only goal, scored in the 83rd minute by 23-year-old Lawman Casemiro. student Henrique Melo explained his dilemma.
As a soccer fan, I desperately wanted Neymar to recover from the ankle injury that sidelined him in Brazil’s 2-0 win over Serbia on Thursday, in which the Paris Saint-Germain star shone despite not find the goal.
“The team misses him,” said Melo, proudly wearing the soccer-mad nation’s jersey.
At the same time, the fact that the world’s most expensive footballer has yet to score in the tournament “is the best result Brazil has had in the World Cup,” he joked.
“We would have had all these Bolsonaro supporters celebrating,” Melo, a proud supporter of the leftist president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, told AFP.
“As a player, Neymar is incredible, he’s an artist. As a person, he leaves a lot to be desired. Not only his political views, but also who he is. Instead of just enjoying his lavish lifestyle, he could be investing in education.” . , social projects, setting an example for the kids… He could be the man.”
On Rio’s iconic Copacabana beach, where huge crowds watched the game on a giant screen, 29-year-old vendor Tainara Santana was feeling the same dilemma.
“I like football so I want (Neymar) to play because he’s good. But I can’t say I’m sad because he hasn’t scored. It’s great to see Neymar fail,” he laughed.
With his lean good looks and massive social media following, Neymar is one of the biggest names in sports.
But his football magic has been tarnished at times.
On the pitch, critics accuse the 30-year-old Paris Saint-Germain star of taking a dive and failing to live up to expectations when it counts. Off the court, he has faced accusations of excessive partying, tax fraud and bratty behavior.
“He’s an idiot,” Santana said.
“Not only because of his politics, but because of his machismo, his ego, his total lack of humility.”
– ‘How low have we sunk?’ –
Brazil’s campaign for a record-extending sixth World Cup comes on the heels of last month’s divisive election.
Neymar backed Bolsonaro against Lula and became the target of an army of “Neymar haters” online.
Over the weekend, “F*** Neymar” became one of the top trending topics in Brazil on Twitter.
Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo was quick to defend Neymar on Sunday.
“You are a damn Neymar! Giant!” the two-time World Cup winner wrote on Instagram on Sunday.
“That’s why you have to deal with so much envy and malice, to the point that people celebrate your injury. How low have we sunk?” she said, urging Neymar to “use that hate for fuel.”
Teammates Casemiro and Raphinha also defended Neymar, saying he didn’t deserve the shadow he was receiving on social media.
Brazil have struggled in the past without Neymar, notably enduring the embarrassment of their 7-1 loss to Germany at home in the 2014 World Cup semi-finals after their talisman suffered a back injury.
In Copacabana, Charleo Luis, a supporter of Lula, just wanted to keep politics and soccer separate.
Neymar haters “are idiots who don’t know anything about football,” said the 24-year-old street vendor.
“Who cares if he supports Bolsonaro? He’s a great player. I’m a big fan, I love him. I encourage him to come back.”
The World Cup, he added, “is a time to cheer each other on as a big family.”