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Socrates, Mekhloufi, Drogba. Neymar?

Neymar was already Brazil’s biggest football star even before his master class at the Confederations Cup saw off plucky Mexico.

The new Barcelona forward is living up to the hype on the big stage, and has already scored two cracking goals in the tournament, and registered an assist to prove he is far more than the show pony his detractors accuse him of being.

His goals have been pictures of timing and technique, with last night’s opener against Mexico a textbook volley with his ‘weaker’ left foot.

And Neymar’s assist for substitute Jo encapsulated what the rising superstar is all about (click to watch in glorious slow motion).

Receiving the ball on the left, he mesmerised two Mexican defenders, rendering them into Aztec ruins, before slipping his way past them to put the ball on a plate for his grateful team-mate.

There can be no more doubt about Neymar’s devastating effect on the field, and why Barca paid upwards of €50 million for him, and inserted a €190 million release clause in his contract.

But what Neymar is also now beginning to show is his maturing status as a role model and icon in Brazil.

As brightly as the 21-year-old superstar is shining, a pall hangs over the Confederations Cup.

The biggest demonstrations in Brazil’s modern history are taking place outside the stadia daily, as working class people query the billions lavished on the Confed and 2014 World Cups, at the cost of the nation’s social development.

And to his credit, ahead of the game, Neymar gave his support to the protestors, suggesting that while it is regrettable that they have been forced to take to the streets, he acknowledges their demands are just and is “inspired” by them.

"I'm Brazilian and I love my country. I have a family and friends who live in Brazil. For that reason, I want a Brazil which is more just, safer, healthier and more honest," Neymar said on Facebook.

"The only way I can represent and defend Brazil is on the pitch, playing football. From now on, I will enter the field inspired by this [protest] movement.

"I'm sad about what is happening in Brazil.

"I also had faith that it would not be necessary to get to the point of going on to the streets to demand better transport, health, education and safety, which is the government's obligation.

"My parents worked hard so they could offer me and my sister a minimum quality of life.

"Today, thanks to the success which you have brought me, it might seem demagogic on my part, but it isn't, to carry the flag of the protests which are happening in the whole of Brazil."

Football is littered with heroes who made their mark on and off the field: Socrates who fought with his Corinthians Democratic movement against the military dictatorship in Brazil in the 1980s, Rachid Mekhloufi and the FLN team who played for Algerian independence, and African icon Didier Drogba, who intervened to stop bloodshed in the Cote d’Ivoire.

Could it be that spiky haired ‘show pony’ Neymar is set to join those illustrious predecessors, with significance beyond the confines of the pitch?  

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