It was the same old Neymar out there, looking fit and scoring a goal to move closer to Pelé’s all-time record and lead Brazil into the World Cup quarter-finals.
Neymar returned from injury and converted a first-half penalty in Brazil’s 4-1 win over South Korea in the round of 16 on Monday. He reached 76 goals with the national team, one shy of the mark set by Pelé, who said he would watch the match from his hospital bed in Sao Paulo.
“I was very scared,” Neymar said. “It was very difficult after getting injured like I did. I was crying the entire night. My family knows what I had to go through. But in the end, it all worked out. It was worth the effort to keep undergoing physiotherapy.”
Neymar carried a banner with the soccer great’s image and “Pelé” written on it after the match, and the entire team then posed behind it near midfield. The 82-year-old Pelé is recovering from a respiratory infection in Brazil.
“It’s tough to talk about Pelé with what he is going through,” Neymar said. “We wish he can get well soon. We hope we made him feel a bit more comfortable with the banner and with the victory.”
South Korea was trying to advance past the round of 16 for the first time since its historic run to the semifinals as a co-host in 2002. Brazil will next play Croatia on Friday.
Meanwhile, Croatia is going deep at another World Cup, and the team is taking the long route once again.
Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic saved three penalty kicks in Croatia's 3-1 win over Japan in a shootout, securing a return to the quarterfinals for the runner-up in the 2018 tournament.
The match was tied at 1-1 after extra time.
On its surprising run to the final in Russia four years ago, Croatia needed extra time in each round in the knockout stage — and twice came through on a penalty shootout.
“History keeps repeating itself,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said with a smile.
Livakovic was the backup goalkeeper to Danijel Subasic in 2018 but took centre stage this time, diving to his left to keep out Japan's first penalty by Takumi Minamino, to his right to block Kaoru Mitoma's effort from the second penalty, and then again to his right to deny Maya Yoshida off the fourth.
That gave Mario Pasalic the chance to put away the clinching penalty. The substitute joined the rest of Croatia’s jubilant players in heading right for Livakovic after hitting the back of the net.
“In Croatia, we do things this way,” Livakovic said. “I continued the tradition.”
Japan made its mark in Qatar, though, beating Germany and Spain — two of the last three World Cup champions — in huge upsets in the group stage.
“The players showed a new era of Japanese football, I think,” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said. "They should use this feeling of being upset and try to go further next time."
Watch the video in the player above.