Can Neymar Close the Maracanazo Wound?

Original Story

July 16, 1950 is an infamous day in Brazilian soccer history.

It lingers in the minds of Brazilians for all the wrong reasons, and permeates their culture. It was supposed to be a day for glory for a Brazil team that was touted as unbeatable.

The Brazilian press were so sure of victory, they even printed out papers before the final had even been played, proclaiming the Seleção as world champions. But on that day, the right foot of Uruguay's Alcides Ghiggia left the entire nation silent.

The 1950 World Cup Final between Uruguay and Brazil, played at the hallowed ground of soccer, the Maracanã Stadium, was the opportunity to solidify Brazil as the best team in the world. Instead, it left a subconscious wound on the country, and there is only one man who can heal it: Neymar da Silva Santos Jr.

This time around, Brazil is a much different place than it was over 60 years ago, both socially and in sport, and many of those who were alive to witness the "Maracanazo" disaster are no longer here to tell the tale.

With their hosting of the 2014 World Cup, the time has come for Brazil exorcise their demons of 1950, and a new generation has placed all their hopes and dreams on the shoulders of FC Barcelona forward Neymar Jr.

At only 22-years-old, Neymar is already a superstar in his home country.

Having just returned from Rio de Janeiro, you couldn't walk the streets without seeing his canary yellow jersey on every street corner and in the hands of merchants selling cheap knockoffs to passing tourists on Copacabana and Ipanema beach.

Young Brazilians no longer growing up hoping to become the next Pele. They want to be the next Neymar.

Such is the furor over this player that the only name and number that matters in Brazil at the moment is Neymar, number 10, and while the weight of expectation is greater than any of us can imagine, this is his time to shine.

A supremely confident player who already has 31 goals in 48 appearances for a team whose very name is synonymous with futebol, Neymar is a media darling.

After scoring a sublime goal and creating two others in a 4-0 win against Panama earlier this week, the following days edition of O Globo, a popular Brazilian newspaper, had Neymar pasted on the front cover. The sports section also featured the headline, "Neymar + 10. Owner of the ball."

Tune into Brazilian television and you will see him in advertisements, highlight reels and even music videos.

One song "Pais do Futebol," features the lyrics "tocou Neymar é gol," roughly translated to, Neymar touches and scores.

But no player or team has ever won the World Cup on paper, and it won't be an easy ride. Fame can break a player as easily as it can make one, and all of the adulation can turn to blame in a heartbeat.

Neymar will certainly want to avoid the fate of Moacir Barbosa, the goalkeeper from the 1950 team, who became the scapegoat of the entire nation after allowing Ghiggia's shot to slip in at his near post.

While he will certainly not be in goal when Brazil takes the field on June 12 for the opener against Croatia, anything less than a goal, or a win, from the youngster and the team will be considered a failure.

With less than a week left, Neymar and his teammates will take the field and start their campaign towards their sixth World Cup triumph. Whether they will accomplish their goal remains to be seen. Nothing is certain in soccer, but what is certain is that the boy from Sao Paolo has the opportunity to put a permanent smile on the faces of a country that is struggling to find its identity.

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