Since this tournament began, I have been referred to it as the Neymar Tournament, because it was in part a way for Brazil to showcase its Next Big Thing to the rest of the continent and the European clubs. (With the exception of Neymar, most members of the squad will have a rough time trying to get into the 2014 World Cup team. Maybe some will be ready for 2018.)
In the beginning of the tournament, Neymar impressed. He is still the leading goal scorer, and at this stage, it is unlikely that another player will overtake him. But Neymar is also a time bomb ready to explode when he doesn’t get his way. (This is all too common in football on every continent, and quite frankly it is getting worse.) In Brazil’s last match against Argentina, Neymar once again revealed that he is a loose cannon. He get a yellow card for arguing with the referee, and because this is his second card, he will have to sit out of the next match. It is important to remember that while he is gone, Brazil is trying to qualify for an Olympic berth in a competition that just got tighter. He is simply not dependable. Why Barcelona, or any major club for that matter, is so interested in him is beyond me. But Zlatan Ibrahimovic went from Juventus to Inter to Barcelona to AC Milan, so clearly being a poison in the dressing room is not a concern for the super-clubs.
In this final group stage, Neymar has really lost the plot, and it’s not just about scoring. His attitude and his theatrics, especially his diving, obscure his talent. Neymar has Robinho written all over him, and it is sad because Brazil is due for another major talent to emerge. Since early 2006, no Brazilian has lived up to Ronaldinho, including Ronaldinho (and Kaka, who was never as great as his press suggested, has become second-rate upon leaving Milan for Madrid.) For whatever reason, the big Brazilian stars just haven’t been shining as brightly. One need look no further than the 2010 World Cup to see how far Brazil’s international game has fallen, and international success is Brazil’s crowning achievement.
The other reason that this is no longer the Neymar Tournament is because Argentina has suddenly turned into a different team. Now the media focus is squarely on Juan Iturbe, who has been unfairly tagged as the next Messi (or the “Guarani Messi” because he was born to Paraguayan parents and plays in Paraguay, although his club status is a little bit complicated, and he’ll be going to Porto anyway.) Iturbe has indeed scored some goals that are Messi (and Maradona)-esque. It is a credit to the effectiveness of the Argentinian youth system that Iturbe has committed to playing for Argentina when it would be much easier for him to earn a spot on Paraguay’s senior national team. Calling up Iturbe to the Argentinian national squad is no guarantee. Although he is a terrific talent, he is no Messi. I fear that the hype may turn Iturbe into another Sergio “Kun” Aguero–a player of great skill and important to his club, but ultimately somewhat overrated–or into a complete bomb altogether.
If I were to rename the tournament, it would be the Iturbe Tournament, because in the battle of the starlets, he came out on top. However, because this tournament has become unpredictable again (and thus more interesting to the neutral fan), it deserves to have its real name restored. Henceforth this is no longer the Neymar Tournament.