Neymar Facing Career-Defining Game in World Cup Quarter-Final vs. Colombia

Christopher Atkins@@chris_elasticoContributor IJuly 3, 2014

Getty Images

Brazil can heave a collective sigh of relief. As of Thursday morning, Neymar is set to be fit to play in Friday's World Cup quarter-final clash with Colombia after overcoming a thigh injury sustained against Chile.

With Luiz Gustavo suspended, there had been a brief period when the Selecao had feared they'd be playing one of the most important games of their respective careers without their two leading lights of the tournament thus far.

Yet, once more, Neymar has pulled through.

It is nigh-on impossible to overstate how much Brazil rely on the 22-year-old from Mogi das Cruzes.

Against Chile, despite carrying that injury, it was Neymar who stepped up to take the crucial fifth penalty while his captain was still busy asking not to be deployed in the shootout.

When needed, Neymar came good for his country.
When needed, Neymar came good for his country.Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Earlier in the tournament, meanwhile, it was he who almost single-handedly dragged Brazil out of difficulties against Croatia and Cameroon. Last summer, his performances in the Confederations Cup were well beyond expected levels.

It is an unusual character trait to thrive under intense pressure, but it is something Neymar has proven capable of time and time again.

Indeed, while Barcelona fans will point to his inability to ignite his career in Europe thus far, it is arguably the case that he has been stripped of too much responsibility by the Catalan giants.

"I do not feel burdened with the obligation to be the highlight," Neymar said, per Sky Sports. "I have colleagues who help me. Some win the ball, others give passes, others score goals. We are a team.

He added: "It's not about one player. Here the important thing is that Brazil is champion."

While it may be the case that Brazil's reliance on Neymar to perform in recent years has verged on unfair, the youngster has also shown that he wants to be the centre of attention. He is, after all, not the first major star to fall short of expectations when asked to play a supporting role for Lionel Messi—as he does with Barcelona.

Anyone who has followed Neymar's career since his 2009 breakthrough at Santos will know this is far from a recent trend.

His role in Santos' 2011 Copa Libertadores success while still a teenager was the obvious highlight, playing a starring role in the knockout rounds as the club secured their first success in the competition in 50 years.

However, it was not just in terms of winning trophies that he showed his character.

Neymar led from the front as Santos claimed a first Libertadores since the time of Pele.
Neymar led from the front as Santos claimed a first Libertadores since the time of Pele.Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press/Associated Press

For instance, there was one particular match against Peru's Juan Aurich in the 2012 edition of the competition that was played on a waterlogged pitch that saw Neymar consistently hacked at by his opponents. Post-match, he went as far as to describe the treatment as being akin to a UFC fight, as per Fox Sports.

Despite those conditions, Neymar was the star of the show and grabbed the final goal of the game. It was a theme of his time in South America; the more opponents targeted him, the better he played.

So difficult was he to stop when playing in important fixtures that those who managed it through legitimate means—Dede, Gino Peruzzi and Rodrigo Caio the most impressive—still dine out on that one performance to this day. Second time around, they are rarely so fortunate.

Frank Augstein/Associated Press

The clash with Colombia will be the latest challenge in the 22-year-old's relatively short career to date. He may come up short—as Columbia will be no easy task—but it will not be due to a lack of mettle or a psychological weakness.

Where a number of Brazilian "next big things" have tried and failed, Neymar has consistently succeeded. Despite his tender age, he is a remarkably mature character and is already one of his national side's senior figures. Yet for all the pressure that has been heaped upon him this competition, he remains unfazed.

Such clarity of thought is an invaluable attribute, and Luiz Felipe Scolari will thus be delighted to have his star available. Brazil have no Plan B at present; without Neymar, they would be lost.

The next three games, should Brazil advance, will define Neymar's career in the eyes of many Brazilians. This is the competition they are supposedly destined to win, with the Barcelona man leading their path to glory.

That may be the public consensus right now, but the truth is he is destined to be great regardless of the tournament's outcome. Others will not be so fortunate, but there is only one Neymar, and he has the footballing world at his feet and an attitude that should see him all the way to the top.

Colombia will sense blood against Brazil, but they will have to silence Neymar if they are to claim victory. Given the sense of occasion, evidence suggests it will be a far from simple task.


    Woeful Messi Must Learn from Ronaldo

    World Football logo
    World Football

    Woeful Messi Must Learn from Ronaldo

    Tom Sunderland
    via Bleacher Report

    Fans Worried About Messi During National Anthem

    World Football logo
    World Football

    Fans Worried About Messi During National Anthem

    via mirror

    Made in London: Nigeria's British Connection

    World Football logo
    World Football

    Made in London: Nigeria's British Connection

    Tom Williams
    via Bleacher Report