Two weeks before the World Cup, Neymar donned a shirt emblazoned with various images of Vinicius, had his picture taken and shared it with his more than 190 million followers on Instagram. “Idol and brother”, the Real Madrid footballer replied, summarizing the journey of a relationship that those close to him define as falling in love. They are the most dangerous couple in Brazil, the favorites for the title, who today play the pass to the semifinals against Croatia (World Goal, Movistar; at 4:00 p.m.).
Vini fell first. He grew up enthralled with the fantasy of 10 and what he represented for the country. Neymar became fond of him when he saw how he tamed his electricity and got along with Benzema until he finished propelling him to the Ballon d’Or. The relationship grew closer last summer. Neymar invited Vini to the traditional party that he organizes every year at his mansion in Mangaritiba, near Rio de Janeiro. And a couple of weeks later he attended the celebration of the Madrid player’s 22nd birthday, who that day posted a photo on Instagram in which he appeared contemplating the World Cup trophy in a showcase. They also saw each other in Miami, and not even the arrival of September cooled the romance.
Neymar has remained very aware of the young apprentice. He was the first to tuck him in public when the storm broke out over his celebratory choreography. “Dance, Vini, dance”, he encouraged him, and began an extensive chain of support from Brazilian players in which even Pelé participated.
They were the most hectic days for Vinicius in Spain since the time of memes, and Neymar was worried that he would notice that he was pending. After the turbulence, the camp of the Brazilian team has become a refuge for the madridista, happy to meet the 10: “I am lucky to play with my idol. He gives me all the support I need, ”he recounted Wednesday. Above all, seeing themselves together pursuing a formidable goal: “He told me that the World Cup is different from any other competition. Now I am living it, and I know how important it is for our country. He told me that and I always remember it. I had no idea of the size, but when the anthem sounded I saw the difference of playing a World Cup for your country, and even more so for Brazil, the one with the most titles and the one that everyone wants to win”.
Vinicius’ path to the place he now occupies in the national team has not been easy. During some periods, the Brazilian felt the same misunderstanding with Tite as he did with Zidane at Madrid. He believed that the coach did not understand what he could bring to the team, and the coach thought that he had not found the way to fit into the puzzle. The change began with Carlo Ancelotti at Valdebebas at the beginning of last season: “He always gave me the confidence I needed, and corrective measures at the right times. He is like a father to me, he gave me the necessary affection and also the responsibility, ”he recounted. “He gave me advice to be a starter in the national team.”
In the process, of course, Tite also participated, who spoke several times on the phone with Ancelotti. They exchanged views on how to get the most out of a footballer with overflowing talent, but who couldn’t find the right adjustment point. After the initial frustration with the coach, Vinicius also recognizes his role in the takeoff: “The technical committee and the coach were indicating to me where I needed to improve to reach my best level and be a starter in the national team,” he said. “Every time I came to the national team, I came back with something that I needed to be a starter.”
In Qatar the work seems to be finished. Vinicius is the third player with the most incidence in generating goals. If you look at how many times he has been involved in the two steps prior to a goal, the Brazilian, with four, only appears behind Kylian Mbappé (7) and Jude Bellingham (5).
Its incidence in the attacking game of Brazil is decisive. He is the player who has received the most progressive passes, which according to Opta terminology are those that reach inside the area, or those with which a team advances at least 10 meters from the area where they have been giving the last six touches. If the data is taken per game, and the footballers who have played more than 150 minutes in the tournament are considered, the couple with whom the team advances the most is the one that began courting in the summer: Neymar receives advancing 7.8 times per game. match and Vinicius, 7.7.
It is the maturity of the madridista on the biggest stage of football. Here he is showing his most contained version in Qatar, without fussing over fouls, more attentive to the movements of his teammates and with a little less dribbling: if in Madrid he tries 6.2 times per game, in the World Cup he is staying at 4.6. A serenity that crystallized in the goal with which he opened the scoring in the round of 16 against Korea, his first goal in a World Cup. While five rivals piled up to cover his shot, he held out for two seconds until he glimpsed a corner. And he danced with Paquetá and Raphinha. And with Neymar.
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