Brazil have completed the set.
The Olympic gold medal was the only title they were lacking, but that was put right by a penalty shoot-out win over Germany in Rio’s Maracana stadium.
But in addition to winning a tournament, Brazil have also lost a captain. After the match Neymar said that he was no longer interested in carrying out the role – but giving up the armband may well be for the best.
At 24, the Barcelona striker remains prone to attacks of petulance – made worse by his style of play. One of Neymar’s predecessors as Brazil’s star was Zizinho, chosen as the outstanding player of the 1950 World Cup. Many years ago he confessed to me that, when necessary, he knew how to break an opponent’s leg. It was a question of timing, he said, which meant that the very best players, Pele included, were often good at it. It was, he concluded, a necessary survival skill for skilful players in a more brutal age.
Thankfully, times have changed. Top players now receive much greater protection. And they now develop in a different way. Zizinho and company were products of old fashioned street and park football, where with the exception of hand ball anything goes. A skilful player in such an environment, especially as he is on the small side, has to learn a self-defence strategy – when to let go of the ball, the right moment to take the risk of going for a dribble, how to hit back, or get his retaliation in first.
Neymar, meanwhile, has grown up in a more formal era. He has been hothoused, either in futsal or in organised youth football – with the presence of a referee. Indeed, the presence of the referee is fundamental to Neymar’s self-defence strategy. He protects himself by going to ground, looking for the free kick – which doubles as an attacking strategy as well, because he is so dangerous from set pieces.
But it is a method of playing which carries its own risks. It is likely to enrage the opposition, who see his propensity to go to ground as a form of cheating. And there is always the possibility of friction with the referee. If Neymar is not awarded his free kick he can become very petulant. So whether or not the referee blows his whistle, the emotional ante of the game is always likely to be raised, sometimes dangerously so.
This was the problem when Brazil met Colombia in the quarter-final of their Olympic campaign.
There is bad blood between the teams. Neymar, of course, was injured against Colombia in an ill-tempered game two years ago in the quarter-final of the World Cup. Last year he was sent off at the end of a defeat to Colombia in the Copa America, and picked up a four game suspension after abusing the referee. The Olympic match was always likely to be a difficult one to handle, and so it proved.
The Colombians overdid the tough tackling, the Brazilians overdid the diving. The entire first half was played on the verge of a mass flare up. In the most difficult circumstances, Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir did an excellent job.
He did everything possible to reduce the temperature of the game. He talked to the captains. He talked to the coaches. He used his yellow card wisely – neither ignoring violent play by being too lenient nor raising the temperature still further by being too rash. He could have sent off Neymar for a vicious kick; in any other circumstances the foul would surely have warranted a straight red, but it came after the Colombians had failed to give the ball back when Brazil had kicked it out for a player to receive treatment.
The referee used common sense, took this into consideration and let Neymar off with a yellow. It was the right decision, and after half time the match settled down and became easier to control. It was a terrific performance from Cuneyt Cakir – and a game which highlighted the dangers of Neymar being Brazil’s captain.