Neymar fails to spark Brazil in South Africa stalemate

Friday, August 05, 2016

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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AFP) — Barcelona star Neymar failed to provide the expected flying start to Brazil’s quest for a maiden football Olympic gold medal as the hosts were held 0-0 by 10-man South Africa in their Rio 2016 opener yesterday.

Neymar is by far the biggest name taking part in the football competition, and he has been tasked with restoring pride to Brazilian football after a catastrophic 7-1 defeat to Germany on home soil at the 2014 World Cup.

However, he endured a frustrating afternoon on a sandy and slow surface in Brasilia as South Africa held out, despite Mothobi Mvala’s red card half an hour from time.

Group A is now in a four-way tie on one point after Iraq and Denmark also played out a scoreless draw earlier yesterday.

In contrast to the vast swathes of empty stands across the six cities being used to host the men’s and women’s football tournaments on the opening two days, the hosts commanded a near-capacity 70,000 crowd.

However, the home fans weren’t treated to the victory procession many expected from a Brazilian side not only boasting Neymar, but also Manchester City’s new £27-million ($35.4 million) signing Gabriel Jesus and Marquinhos of Paris Saint-Germain.

Indeed, South Africa’s Lebo Mothiba had a host of chances to cause an almighty upset, but failed to make a ragged Brazilian defence pay for early tournament nerves.

Neymar was proudly sporting the captain’s armband, but his desire to get involved by dropping deep often left him too far from the South African goal to make a telling impact.

The Barcelona star did have Brazil’s best two efforts of the first half with strikes from outside the box that forced South African ‘keeper Itumeleng Khune into two stunning saves.

South Africa dominated the early stages of the second half with Mothiba and Captain Keagen Dolly coming close, but their chances appeared to have gone when defender Mvala was sent off for two quickfire yellow cards.

Brazil ramped up the pressure as Jesus somehow turned the ball only onto the post with the goal gaping, whilst a dipping drive from Neymar landed on the roof of the net.

At press time, Sweden and Colombia were also in action in Manaus, nearly 3,000 km from Rio, in Group B.

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