RIO DE JANEIRO: Goalless, booed off twice and facing another embarrassing tournament exit on home soil, Neymar and Brazil’s footballers have lost their shine as Marta’s free-scoring Brazilian women dazzle the host nation at Rio 2016.
Charged with restoring Brazilian football’s pride two years on from a 7-1 thrashing by Germany at their own World Cup, the Barcelona star and his proteges stooped to new lows with their second consecutive scoreless draw against Iraq on Sunday to a chorus of jeers in Brasilia.
Instead Brazil’s treasured first Olympic football gold could come thanks to their women as a nation in need of inspiration has rallied round their sensational start.
In contrast to Neymar’s ineffectual and irritable displays, five-time World Player of the Year Marta has lived up to her billing as the golden girl, scoring twice in a 5-1 thrashing of Sweden on Saturday to add to an opening 3-0 win over China.
Marta is even becoming a stick to beat the beleaguered men’s team with. In the closing stages of the stalemate against Iraq, her name was chanted by the disgruntled crowd.
“The team has lost credit with the public,” Rio newspaper O Globo surmised on Monday.
“They lost their head and balance. At 0-0 against the Iraqis, they were booed then humiliated with cries of ‘ole’ for Marta.”
Neymar’s decision to swerve the media glare after another disappointing display even provoked fresh questions over whether he has the discipline and leadership qualities to be captain.
“When waiting for an announcement from the captain of Brazil, Neymar, on the outcome there was no explanation,” said ESPN Brazil.
“It was enough to rekindle once again the debate on the armband.”
Neymar instead trudged out of the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha and onto the team bus head bowed and headphones on to drown out critical comments.
The contrast to the night before couldn’t have been starker as hundreds of young girls waited outside Rio’s Olympic stadium until 1am screaming Marta’s name as she boarded the Brazil women’s bus.
Marta’s starring role against the Swedes also came just 24 hours after she was selected as one of eight Brazilians carry the Olympic flag into the iconic Maracana at the opening ceremony.
“Marta never takes advantage of the fact she is who she is to get favors,” said Brazilian women’s coach Vadao.
“She always sees herself on the same level as the other players and nothing more. That is what makes her so special because she never tries to be more than the others.”
Brazil’s women are already assured of their place in the quarter-finals as Marta tries to get back to the Maracana for the gold medal match on August 19.
The men meanwhile face a third catastrophic end to a tournament on home soil.
Defeat to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup final at the Maracana scarred Brazilian football for generations until the Germans’ rout in Belo Horizonte plunged A Selecao to new depths two years ago.
Failing to get out of a group containing South Africa, Iraq and Denmark with on paper the strongest team in the competition may even surpass those historic failures.
Victory over the Danes on Wednesday will secure progress to the last eight, but it will take much more to win back the hearts of Brazil’s scorned fans.