Thiago Silva (c)
Brazil shacked up in their capital last night with a feeling that the brutal pressure and high pulse rate of the opening games might dissipate a little, even if top spot in the group was still on the line here.
And while they did enough to achieve their primary goal, there were the same concerns in defence that have stalked them at this World Cup. Indeed after Neymar put them in front early on, rather than lead to a predicted thrashing, the home side gulped and briefly froze.
Joël Matip's equaliser for Cameroon midway through the first period prodded and probed at a shock result, but Neymar netted again before half-time and only then did they do what we all expected of them. He was the star of the show once more which begs the question of what might happen against better opposition on a night he goes quiet. The nation dare not think of that, but it's relevant because others do not look like stepping up. Fred, who tapped home the third early in the second half, was not threatening for the most part. And that after a promising start.
There were signs of a predictable way this could go from the first seconds as Hulk went easily around Henri Bedimo before being hauled down by the shoulders. The free-kick led to little but while Cameroon had their entire team in their own half, Neymar still found space twice in the following moments and Brazil might have broken open the game even that early.
But it was not just him providing the threat. This is an imperfect team and a serious problem at striker and down the wings has left perhaps too much centralised pressure on the creative three behind the attack. But here Hulk was joined on the other side by Marcelo in making room, even if the final ball was not there enough. Granted, the other problem with Brazil thus far has been an edginess in defence and that was on show throughout.
The fear beforehand was that Cameroon had so little to play for, after showing so little pride, that anything was possible. After all, men with nothing to lose can do remarkable things and there were several half openings, even if goalkeeper Julio Cesar was not tested until Benjamin Moukandjo floated a free-kick into his arms 15 minutes in.
There was a tetchiness about Cameroon throughout as well, best surmised by Allan Nyom's shove into the back of Neymar with the ball out of play. But it was matched by an early assuredness in their passing, even if there was brief calm for the hosts. On 17 minutes, Luiz Gustavo turned the ball over on the left, his low cross split the centre-halves and Neymar finished like a man who refuses to let this World Cup be just about Lionel Messi. But think the floodgates were about to open? Think again.
Sure enough, Neymar had a volley batted away and Fred – who entered the game with unwanted history breathing heavily behind him as no striker wearing No 9 had ever failed to score for Brazil in the group stage of the World Cup – nearly bundled home. But against the run of play came the equaliser. Dani Alves has become a liability it seems and there were moments of his flakiness before Nyom got a cross in on 26 minutes and Matip had the easiest of finishes from six yards.
Brazil were shaky, especially from crosses but as he's done already at this World Cup, with his team providing questions Neymar had an answer. On 34 minutes, picking a ball up 35 yards out, he dribbled to just inside the box and wrong-footed Charles Itandje in the Cameroon goal with his finish.
It lifted those around him, providing a soothing reassurance to one and all. In fact just on half-time Hulk nearly scored the goal of the tournament after a move that started with Neymar beginning an intricate move.
And Neymar picked up where he left off after the break in a game-defining performance, playing with a freedom and flightiness that is lacking in many around him, especially when games are close.
Minutes into the second half he had a free-kick tipped away before Marcelo's cross left Fred with the sort of finish he needed with his confidence so low, although it looked suspiciously offside.
That released the pressure a bit, allowing the sort of play we had expected from much earlier, but the sort of play that cannot be used as an indicator of things to come when they meet Chile on Saturday in Belo Horizonte. Even Neymar can expect it much different because as the game opened up past the hour mark, it left him any amount of space to gallop into.
Granted, there was no real capitalisation until Fernandinho found space in the dying embers and netted a deserved goal after a decent effort. A win is fine for now, but a performance like this will not have made many others sit up and take notice or left many Brazilians sliding off the edge of their seats.