Neymar‘s penalty 13 minutes from time earned Brazil a 1-0 win over fellow World Cup qualifiers Japan at Tokyo’s National Stadium on Monday as the Paris Saint-Germain striker moved to within three goals of Pele’s all-time national scoring record.
The forward coolly slotted the ball past Shuichi Gonda to hit his 74th goal in 119 internationals after being frustrated on several occasions by the Japan goalkeeper in front of a rain-soaked crowd of 63,638 fans.
Brazil captain Marquinhos said: “We expected a more difficult game. I believe that our performance in the last game was better.
“Today we made some mistakes that gave confidence to the Japan team. It was a very good game for us. It was a real test, with adversity, against a team that is ready for the World Cup and that could be one of our opponents.
‘It was a good test, and the result is there. Sometimes you don’t win by a big margin but the important thing is the win. That’s the mentality.”
The visitors threatened early, with Lucas Paqueta hitting the post inside the first two minutes when he latched on to Neymar’s instinctive backheel pass inside the area.
Fred fired over from distance soon after and Raphina forced Shuichi Gonda to save with his feet before Neymar’s firmly-struck, curling effort from outside the area was palmed to safety by the goalkeeper after flying through a crowd of players.
Gonda was on hand again to keep out the visitors three minutes before the end of the half, with Pacqueta slipping the ball through to Neymar, but the PSG man was denied.
Neymar continued to probe, seeing a shot blocked by Endo’s head eight minutes after the restart, while Ko Itakura made a perfectly timed intervention to put himself between the Brazil striker’s volley and the Japan goal.
The pressure eventually told, however, with Neymar at the heart of the action once more.
The 30-year-old’s initial effort was well saved by Gonda but as substitute Richarlison attempted to collect possession he was brought down by Endo and referee Alireza Faghani pointed to the spot.
Neymar sent Gonda the wrong way to score for the ninth time in five appearances against the Japanese and move closer to eclipsing Pele’s long-standing mark.
Brazil are unbeaten in 13 games.
”[The team] is increasingly ready [for the World Cup],” Marquinhos said. “The results are there in the qualifiers and in the friendlies that we have played. We have to take advantage of the good run and keep the confidence to arrive well for the World Cup.”