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Everyone is talking about Neymar (besides Neymar)

He’s okay! Maybe just having a little fun at his own expense during Wednesday’s practice. (Ronal Wittek/Shutterstock)

On soccer’s biggest stage, Brazil is taking steps to defend one of the game’s brightest stars from derision and criticism for his over-the-top reactions and predilection for diving to the turf at the slightest touch.

For Neymar, the criticism reached a crescendo Tuesday after he rocked, rolled and writhed on the ground after Mexico’s Miguel Layun stepped on his ankle. It looked as if he might be seriously hurt this time but, nope, he was up, sprinting down the field shortly thereafter to set up the clinching goal in a 2-0 win. Neymar has, by several accounts, spent around 14 minutes on the ground during this World Cup, so his team and coach have sought to tamp down the criticism and mockery.

Tite, the Brazilian manager, reached out to take Neymar’s arm and answer the first question from reporters after the Mexico match, perhaps attempting to protect the star, but eventually Neymar spoke up.

“I think it’s more an attempt to undermine me than anything else. I don’t much care for criticism, not even for praise because this can influence in a way the athlete’s attitude,” he said. “In the last two matches, I didn’t talk to the press because there are too many people talking, getting excited. I don’t know if they’re showing off. I am here to win with my teammates.”

To that end, Marca reports that Brazil’s football association advised Neymar to keep quiet and let Tite and his teammates defend him ahead of Friday’s quarterfinal match with Belgium. Brazil captain Thiago Silva, also Neymar’s Paris Saint-Germain teammate, reminded people that Neymar was legitimately injured, with a broken foot, just a few months ago. “It’s magnificent how he’s playing, especially after 3 1/2 months on the sidelines,” he said. “It’s very difficult to come back the way he’s done.”

Especially when opponents are hacking at you, and you’re one of the most frequently fouled players in the tournament. Neymar was fouled 10 times — the most of any World Cup player in 20 years — in Brazil’s 1-1 draw with Switzerland.

“There are many ways to see football and interpret it,” Ronaldo, the former Brazil striker, told reporters. “I am against all these opinions [that Neymar is acting]. He is an intelligent player in his movements and on how to defend himself from being tackled. I don’t think referees have been protecting him enough. When people repeatedly hit me, I would feel a sense of unfairness. Criticism is nonsense. TV shows and newspapers just want to fill the space.”

Neymar Sr. took matters a step further, reportedly telling his son’s friends not to take the bait when social media users criticize Neymar.

As for Neymar, he seemed to be having a little fun about the matter Wednesday, rolling on the ground in an apparent pantomime of his antics.

Maybe now, at the quarterfinal stage, the brilliance of Neymar’s play will do all the talking.

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