Neymar's half-volley gave Brazil the early lead against Japan in the Confederations Cup
Paulinho and Jo scored in the second half to complete the 3-0 win in Group A
The win came amid protests across Brazil about a hike public transportation costs
Spain plays Uruguay and Mexico faces Italy as the tournament continues Sunday
In his native Brazil, Neymar is being counted on to lead the South American nation to World Cup glory on home soil next year.
If he can score the kind of goal he did Saturday in the Confederations Cup opener, then Brazil’s chances of claiming a record-extending sixth title will surely increase.
Neymar, hailed as the “modern successor” to Pele, netted with a stunning half volley in the third minute to help Brazil beat Japan 3-0 in Group A. Paulinho and Jo added the other goals in the second half.
“It all happened in a flash,” Neymar said. “I connected full on and happily the ball found the target. I am very happy to score and help Brazil to achieve a victory.”
Brazilian fans probably weren’t the only ones celebrating after Neymar’s strike.
Barcelona supporters must have been pleased, too, since the 21-year-old will team up with four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi at the Camp Nou next season.
The win, Brazil’s second straight after a 3-0 victory against France this week in a friendly, might lift some of the gloom surrounding the national team.
Even after topping France, Brazil had won just two of its past seven matches and manager Luiz Felipe Scolari was being criticized for his less than free flowing style of play. Neymar wasn’t immune to criticism, either.
“What mattered most was the result and this continued the tactical evolution of the team,” Scolari said.
With all eyes on Brazil to see how the nation hosts the World Cup dress rehearsal, the build-up to the game, though, was marred by protests across the country.
Thousands took to the streets to protest against an increase in public transportation costs and there was frustration about the lack of investment in health and education.
In Brasilia a road leading to the stadium this week was reportedly blocked by hundreds of people who were unhappy with the costs of staging the Confederations Cup and World Cup, and protests continued outside the stadium Saturday.
Preparations for the 2014 showpiece itself haven’t been smooth.
Work to stadiums fell behind schedule and last month managers of the stadium in Salvador said human error was partly to blame for causing a tear in the roof.
On the eve of the Confederations Cup, FIFA president Sepp Blatter – booed when introduced before the game – downplayed concerns.
On the field, Brazil had little trouble with Asian champion Japan.
Japan became the first nation to qualify for the World Cup but its defeat Saturday followed a 4-0 loss to Brazil in a friendly in October.
Even Neymar’s harsher critics would have been silenced after his opener.
Marcelo struck a diagonal ball to Fred, who chested it down for his strike partner yards outside the box. Neymar pounced and left Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima with no chance.
Keisuke Honda, a key performer in Japan’s qualifying campaign, made a good run into the box in the ninth minute but his shot from the left side sailed over the bar.
Kawashima denied Fred after good link up play with Neymar before Paulinho realistically settled the game in the 48th minute. Kawashima got a hand to his low shot but not enough of it to keep it out of the net.
Japan almost replied straight away but Shinji Okazaki was off target when supplied with a good cross from Hiroshi Kiyotake.
Neymar gave way to Lucas in the 74th minute because of a slight injury and Brazil made it three when Jo slotted home from Oscar’s pass in injury time.
On Sunday, world and European champion Spain plays Uruguay in Group B and Mexico faces Italy in Group A.