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For 10 minutes, the World Cup obeyed the script that Neymar and Brazil had prepared for it. The supreme talent of the greatest footballing nation on the planet had delivered a moment worthy of crowning any triumph. If the Hexa dream had indeed come true in Doha next Sunday, Neymar's majestic solo strike would have been the moment when it all clicked, when Brazil had proven they had the grit to go with the gold.

Instead Croatia left Brazil pondering what Neymar had not delivered. The misses in normal time, the penalty that never came. The moment to define a career has been ripped away from football's most expensive player.

The harsh truth is that might now be Neymar's place in the history of the game. That $263 million move to Paris Saint-Germain was an attempt to strike out from Lionel Messi's shadow, to be his own man and to cement his status as one of the best players on the planet. He has always been that but what Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and even Luka Modric have had are several of those moments where they have taken the spotlight on the biggest stage. Since leaving Barcelona, where he masterminded La Remontada and for whom he was playing when he won Olympic gold in 2016, Neymar has not.

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On Friday he might have, only for it to be torn out of his grasp by Croatia's first shot on target, Bruno Petkovic's shanked effort that deflected off Marquinhos and beyond Alisson's glove. If there were any points in this sport for artistic merit then there would be no way that goal could draw the Croatians level with the stunning strike that seemed to have broken their resistance.

Picking the ball up outside the penalty area, Neymar gave it to Lucas Paqueta and went. Borna Sosa tried to bring him down but Neymar rode that challenge. The exceptional Dominik Livakovic was out to close him down; somehow he found space to round the goalkeeper. Two despairing defenders hurled themselves to the ground to stop him rolling the ball in the net; Neymar merely lifted it over them.

It was not just the goal of the tournament, not just the perfect way to draw level with Pele as the top scoring man in his country's history, it was a riposte at so much of the criticism that is aimed at Neymar. How could you argue he goes down to easily when he had refused to be blown off course by Sosa's challenge? He had fought off an injury to be available for Brazil's knockout rounds, one that seemed to at the very least have robbed him of much of the sharpness that he has shown with PSG this season.

Should one Croatian counterpunch and a few well-taken penalties rob Neymar of his moment? Perhaps not. But the nature of this highest level of elite sport is that they do. Now the spotlight turns on the moments earlier on where he could have won the game without the need for those extra 30 minutes where Croatia regularly discover their aura of invincibility.

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Twice in the second half Neymar might have killed off the game but his touch was heavy or he went for the shot when an alternative option might have been better. He was being outshone indisputably by Vinicius Junior. Brazil's most dangerous attacking weapon was proving to be the rapid switches out to the left flank where he could isolate Croatian defender Josip Juranovic. Both he and Brazil's striker, Richarlison, might have won the game in regulation, and both seemed more likely to play the role of hero than Neymar.

But this is Neymar's team and when changes were needed, he had to stay. And so, it was Neymar who found what might have been Brazil's match winner were it not for Croatia refusing to obey the script. Of course he would be the presumptive man to take the winning fifth penalty if only it had got that far.

The tears after Marquinhos' effort clattered back off the post ending the shootout 4-2 with Neymar ultimately unneeded in defeat, said it all. A better chance for the moment with Brazil may never come. By the time of the 2026 World Cup he will be 34. Messi and Modric have proven that such an age is no barrier to greatness, but they are exceptions rather than the rule. This tournament may well have been Neymar's last great chance to be the best player on the best international team in the world (his chances at club level are rather dependent on Kylian Mbappe's willingness to remain in Paris). For a moment he delivered. But it was not quite enough.