GOIANIA, Brazil (AP) — Neymar scored one goal and set up two others to help Brazil defeat Panama 4-0 in a World Cup warm-up match on Tuesday.
Neymar broke the deadlock with a well-struck free kick from just outside the area in the 26th minute, and then sent a perfect back-heel pass for Hulk to score less than a minute into the second half. Neymar also started the move that led to Willian scoring in the 73rd.
Neymar’s Barcelona teammate Dani Alves had struck Brazil’s second goal with a right footed shot in the 40th.
Neymar’s goal was the 200th of his career, and 31st with the national team. Despite his solid performance, he said he still has to improve for the World Cup.
“I’m still not ready. I got tired there at the end,” Neymar said. “Little by little in practice I’m improving and getting better physically. There are still nine days left.”
It was Brazil’s second-to-last match before the World Cup opener against Croatia on June 12 in Sao Paulo. The five-time world champion will play Serbia on Friday, also in Sao Paulo.
“It was a valid test,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. “We have to understand that we haven’t played together for nearly three months and we only had seven days to prepare so far. You have to take that into consideration. We didn’t play well in the beginning but I liked the team’s performance during the rest of the match.”
Brazil had been struggling until the first goal and fans had started to jeer their team at the nearly packed Serra Dourada Stadium in the central city of Goiania.
Panama was in control and created most of the scoring chances in the early stages, upsetting fans and prompting Scolari to leave his bench several times to talk to his players.
“In the first 20 or 25 minutes things didn’t go well for us. The defense and the attack were too separated and we couldn’t get a sequence of passes together,” Scolari said. “After the goal we improved. But things could have been different if we had played against a team that was at a higher level.”
The more than 30,000 fans at the Serra Dourada were starting to jeer when Neymar was pulled down at the edge of the area for the foul that led to his goal. He curled a right footed shot over the wall and into the upper left corner of the net to get the crowd behind the team again.
Neymar several times turned to the fans and asked them to cheer and keep supporting the team.
“I have to ask the fans to be a little bit more patient,” Neymar said. “We started slowly but with time we improved and got the goals we needed for the victory.”
The squad was loudly applauded after the final whistle. Neymar also applauded the crowd when it repeatedly chanted his name after he nearly scored with a bicycle kick late in the match.
Brazil was without captain Thiago Silva, who stayed at the team’s training camp outside Rio de Janeiro to improve his physical condition. Reserve midfielder Fernandinho also didn’t travel to Goiania to work on his fitness, while Paulinho didn’t make the trip because of a minor left ankle injury.
Earlier on Tuesday, a few dozen people protested in front of the team’s hotel to complain about the money being spent by the country on the World Cup. Police had to intervene to keep them from disturbing the players.
The national team had already been targeted by demonstrators when it began its preparations in Rio. Protesters banged on the team’s bus and attached dozens of stickers with comments against the World Cup.
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