Neymar and Marta are back on equal footing -- for now

The pressure is off Brazil's men's soccer team. For now. After opening with a pair of scoreless ties against South Africa and Iraq that were greeted with derision from media and fans, the host Brazilians moved into the quarterfinals of the Olympic men's soccer competition with a 4-0 win over Denmark.

Much-maligned Neymar didn't score, but young stars Gabigol and Gabriel Jesus each scored twice for a victory that could have been a lot larger. The Danes also advanced when Iraq and South Africa tied, 1-1.

Brazil has won the World Cup five times but has never captured the Olympic gold medal and is playing two years after its embarrassing fourth-place finish at the World Cup it hosted.

Like two years ago, Brazil attracted huge crowds for its first two games in Brasilia, but they quickly turned on Neymar and company when they didn't score. During the second game, chants of "Mar-ta! Mar-ta!" went up in reference to women's star Marta. The Brazil women won their first two games, 3-0 and 5-1.

Comparisons between the men and women and Neymar and Marta were inevitable. One fan tweeted that if Marta played against Iraq, she would have scored at least three goals. Another showed off his Neymar jersey with Neymar's name crossed out and Marta's name written in. Juca Kfouri, Brazil's best-known sports columnist, told the Wall Street Journal that Marta was a more complete player than Neymar.

“Do not compare her with Neymar," he said. "If you’re going to compare, compare her with Pele.”

Marta did not want to get drawn into the comparisons.

"This comparison we leave to the fans," she said after the Brazil women qualified for the quarterfinals. "We all cheer for the men's team and we know that they cheer for us. Neymar is the best player we have right now. He is fantastic."

Pele did not chime in, but Zico, another Brazilian great, did, telling Globoesporte that Neymar must start acting like the captain he is.

"The captain of our team is not up to being captain," Zico said. "He must worry just about soccer. But, just the opposite, they just started complaining that Iraq were wasting time. They needed to play soccer."

Neymar, who is only 24 but playing as one of Brazil's three overage players in an otherwise under-23 tournament, had come in for great criticism for his partying, especially during the Copa Centenario at which Brazil exited in the first round. (Barcelona refused to let Neymar play in both the Copa Centenario in June and Olympics, forcing the Brazilian federation to choose which tournament to use him in.)

Rogerio Micale, Brazil's Olympic coach, said the criticism of Neymar and comparisons to Marta were unfair.

“Marta is how old? 31?" Micale said. "We can say that she is a sensational player, and she rightfully has all our recognition, but Neymar is a future world-beater. Marta and Neymar are two great Brazilian soccer players. But Neymar is 24 and still hasn't' fully matured. A player generally peaks at 28, both physically and mentally. Neymar has had to live with the pressure of being a leader since he was 17-years-old."

1 comment about "Neymar and Marta are back on equal footing -- for now".
  1. Richard Brown, August 12, 2016 at 5:07 a.m.

    On captains you have to be doing your own job first before you can help team mates do theirs.

    If you remember Thomas Dooley he was the US teams captain for a while. Did a good job until he stopped doing his job on the field, and started to help his teammates without holding down his job on the field. That made him a bad captain.

    Question for me was how was he on the practice field on helping his fellow players.

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