FOXBORO, Mass- Brazil, with help of their star player Neymar, throttled Portugal 3-1 in what was perhaps the most dynamic, end-to-end soccer game in Gillette Stadium history on Tuesday night.
A nearly sellout crowd of 62,310 watched as Brazil's Thiago Silva, Neymar, and Jo tallied three unanswered goals against Portugal, who opened the scoring through Raul Meireles in the 18th minute. The win extended Brazil's sterling run against Portugal to 12-4-3.
Brazil monopolized possession and dominated the game with fluid runs and intricate, precise passing. This win makes them look poised to host, and potentially win, next summer's World Cup.
"This is a game like a World Cup," explained Brazil Head Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who also coached Portugal from 2003-2008. Tuesday night was his first time playing against Portugal since he became Brazil's coach in Nov. 2012.
"The World Cup is even worse than this," he continued. "That's why we play these games. Portugal are very good, they play the ball on the ground. They're very tough to play."
Despite their silky finish, Brazil were second best in the early parts of the game. Meireles' diving header clanked off the right post from a cross by Joao Pereira in the 17th minute.
Meireles scored one minute later, as he intercepted a pass by Maicon intended for Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar and poked the ball easily into the net.
Meireles' two attacking sequences seemed to wake up the Brazilians, who immediately went after an equalizer. Their offensive explosion was due almost entirely to Neymar, who was involved in all three of Brazil's goals.
In the 22nd minute, Neymar drove into the penalty area and fired a low drive at goal that was parried by Rui Patricio. Brazil's Bernard tried to run onto the rebound, but had the ball cleared from his feet and subsequently had his groin stepped on by Fabio Coentrao.
Bernard stayed down for a few moments and recieved medical attention, but remained in the game. On the ensuing corner kick, Brazil's persistence came to fruition and Bernard got rewarded for the hit he took. He watched as Thiago Silva rose over Miguel Veloso to head Neymar's corner kick into the goal for the tying score.
Then, Neymar's put his own mark on the game. The Barcelona superstar ran down the midfield's spine and into the heart of Portugal's defense, cutting and weaving his way through players before firing a bullet into the back of the net in the 35th minute.
"He's being chased and he continues to be chased because he has a quality, which is dribbling.
He's been playing very well, for three, four years. Normally Neymar is [what he did tonight.]
Neymar nearly created another goal in the 39th minute off another corner kick, but had his set-up botched by Paulinho, who volleyed an open shot over the crossbar.
Portugal's attack didn't have much to say after Meireles' goal and looked especially gun-shy after Neymar flipped the switch. They sorely missed Cristiano Ronaldo, who was ruled out of the game due to tendinitis.
"I didn't miss him," said Scolari of Ronaldo with a chuckle. "He would have complicated our life a lot more."
Portugal was also tired from their 4-2 win over Northern Ireland last Friday in World Cup qualification and the ensuing flight from Belfast to Boston.
And, they were outplayed.
Brazil controlled the midfield and out-shot the Portuguese. They were better in the air and were almost always first to the ball.
It was no surprise that the Brazilians finished off the game in the 49th minute with a third goal. Neymar made a run down the left flank before passing to Maxwell, who played the ball across the box to a wide-open Jo. Jo tapped in the feed, easily beating Patricio, who was covering the other post.
And just like that, Brazil's performance was complete.
The Neymar show was over.
It was rare that he was allowed to play almost the entire game before being subbed out in the 89th minute. Brazil had control of the game and keeping Neymar on the field could have risked an injury.
But against Portugal, who are part of the upper-crust of world soccer, Brazil proved how devastating they can be with Neymar. Through both his individual skill and his exchanges with teammates, he was too difficult to handle. He'll likely play every minute of every game next summer, so Tuesday night was just a preview of things to come.
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