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Neymar is such a divisive figure in Brazil? Why? And can he change it?

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Brazil's Neymar proves he can score from anywhere (0:30)

Neymar showed off his skills at Brazil training ahead of their World Cup clash with Mexico, putting the ball in the net from an unusual angle. (0:30)

MOSCOW -- Soon after Germany completed their mother of all comebacks in Sochi, social media accounts were naturally busy around the globe. But not in the way you might think.

Never mind that we had just witnessed a stunning game despite the fact Sweden will feel upset after VAR ignored Jerome Boateng's assault on one of their forwards in the first half. Never mind that Toni Kroos scored a goal that would make a PhD in Physics purr, either, as users found a way to include Neymar in the conversation. Or should we say, they found a way to stick a boot in because the remarks were hardly flattering.

Without pointing to a particular tweet, the comments were generally in the line of "Kroos is a real footballer because he did not cry or behave like a brat" and "Kroos didn't cry for the camera," a reference to Neymar's tears following Brazil's dramatic late 2-0 win over Costa Rica.

Brazil coach Tite defended his star on Tuesday, ahead of the Selecao facing Serbia in Moscow, saying that "crying is not a sign of weakness," but it did little to calm the storm online. The comments about Neymar got more heated the closer you were to Brazil, too, at least empirically.


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It's not a complete surprise: as divisive as he is, back in Brazil is where Neymar causes more uproar. In my considerable time watching football and working with the game, I've never seen a Brazilian star player generate such bipartisan opinions.

For example: Some 26 years ago, an innocuous Brazil vs. Germany friendly played in December in Porto Alegre finished with a 3-1 score to the hosts. But all the talk was hijacked by a tantrum from a Holland-based player after not starting that match.

"I am better than the players chose to start. Why did I travel all the way from Europe to sit on the bench?"

That was Romario, who two years later became a crucial figure in Brazil's victorious campaign at USA 1994 after bad results in the qualifiers led to immense popular pressure for then-manager Carlos Alberto Parreira to recall the player who'd been unceremoniously banished after the Porto Alegre episode. Brazilians would probably break the internet if Neymar behaved in a vaguely similar way.

Is this a defence of the PSG star's current antics? Not quite. Brazil's best player of the past decade can be a handful on the pitch, especially when deciding to appoint himself "Roy of the Rovers" or when overreacting to contact by an opponent. But this is the same player who is consistently targeted by other teams and who equalled a long-standing national team record in the Selecao's World Cup opener by receiving 10 fouls vs. Switzerland.

Yet Neymar is also the same player who was viciously taken down in the last World Cup by a challenge that Sub-Zero would deem a tad too cynical in "Mortal Kombat."

It's true that Neymar is untouchable in the national team since breaking through in 2010 -- he has averaged almost 84 minutes on the pitch in the 87 games played for the national team and started 83 of those games -- and it's fair to wonder what would happen these days if he were replaced in an important Selecao match, something that has not happened since 2011.

So far, however, Neymar has not "done a Romario" though fans are entitled to feel aggrieved by the ostentatious lifestyle, the dodgy haircuts and his attempts to elude the Brazilian authorities on his taxes. (By the way, the whole 1994 World Cup winning squad did something similar on the plane back to Brazil in 1994 after threatening to boycott a champions parade if the thousands of dollars in goods bought from the U.S. were not rushed through customs.)

Ronaldo, for all his class, also faced fearsome scrutiny especially after that still-unexplained episode in the hours leading up to the 1998 World Cup final. He certainly didn't escape criticism while losing the battle to the scales at the twilight of his career. Still, nobody really threatened publicly to support other national teams because of him, which some disgruntled fans have threatened in Neymar's case.

Another Ronaldinho also got some flack, especially after his lacklustre performances in the 2006 World Cup. But even after becoming a party animal and actually being booted out Barcelona for fears he might drag along a young and impressionable Lionel Messi, he still got revered by the fans.

It's not really Neymar's fault that he grew up in the digital era. In early 1990s Brazil, talk about the internet was a guaranteed way to lose any chance of romance for men and women. These days, however, Brazilians "hijack" platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and Wikipedia even has an entry for the "Brazilian Internet Phenomenon," created at a time when Brazilians were not the fourth-biggest country in terms of users. (Currently, they're behind only China, India and the U.S. according to International Telecommunications Union).

As more Brazilians logged on, more scrutiny was heaped upon the nation's celebrities. It's even worse still for Neymar because he actually enjoys using the internet like any other millennial.

Ah, but he has a lot of money and shows it off, you might say. But isn't showing off what all of us do on social media, to the point in which we all think everyone else is doing greater?

Ah, but he is an overpaid primadonna. That is what people think in a country where almost 30 percent of the national wealth is in the hands of 1 percent of the population.

But these guys don't use Instagram and are not on camera every weekend. And most of them were not raised in poverty. Neymar was -- and so was Romario, by the way.

Does it give any of them diplomatic immunity? Of course not, and it's democratic that people will give their opinions about footballers. Brazil needs democratic debate every day even if it's about sports, but blaming this kid for everything that is wrong with Brazilian football is way out of hand. Especially when he is the same kid that against Costa Rica became the third-highest scorer in Selecao history.

Against Serbia, it looked clear that Neymar had been sat down by Tite or even Neymar Sr. The PSG tyro kept quiet and worked for the team despite clearly overreacting to a challenge in the first half when he made it look as if he'd been hit by the Trans-Siberian express, not an opponent. Still, judging by the reaction of Brazil fans on social media, it wasn't enough.

On the pitch, however, he was for the first time in this World Cup applauded by fans and Brazilian journalists said he was "almost" the player they know he can be.

Brazil are lucky to have Neymar, but it remains a national pastime to seemingly kick him when he's down unless, of course, he helps Brazil clinch that trophy. That's the only way to work this out.