Neymar showed why he is the most coveted player outside Europe as he lit up the Club World Cup with a sumptuous strike on Wednesday to send Santos on their way to a likely final against Barcelona.
All the talk before the semi-final clash against the host side Kashiwa Reysol had been about the 19-year-old forward, and he did not disappoint, scoring a sensational first goal as the Brazilians ran out 3-1 winners.He will probably meet Barcelona and Lionel Messi in Sunday's final, though the European champions first need to dispose of the Qataris Al Sadd in the other semi-final on Thursday.
Neymar, the young Brazilian international who has been linked with almost every top club in Europe and compared to the Argentine Messi, was almost on the scoresheet after only five minutes, but his low shot bounced off a post.
On 19 minutes he did score, and it was some strike.
He picked the ball up with his back to goal, dummied inside and from outside the box unleashed an unstoppable left-footed curling shot that nestled in the top corner of the net. Goalkeeper Takanori Sugeno had no chance.
Five minutes later the South American champions went two goals ahead when striker Borges, who has been in prolific form in the past year, got away from his marker and crashed the ball into the other corner of Sugeno's goal.
Japanese champions Kashiwa, who have their very own talented Brazilians in coach Nelsinho and J-League player of the year Leandro Domingues, were stunned. But to their credit they belatedly found some rhythm at the Toyota Stadium and they had the better of the rest of the first-half, without really creating a clear chance on goal for their yellow-shirted fans in the crowd of 29,173.
Santos might have taken a 3-0 lead minutes after the re-start, but Sugeno saved with his legs from Danilo.
Mighty Barca battle Al Sadd and jet lag
Yokohama: Fresh from their glorious El Clasico defeat of great rivals Real Madrid in the Bernabeu, Barcelona kick off their campaign on Thursday in a game they will be fully expected to win.
The European champions face Qatar's Al Sadd for a place in the intercontinental final, where they will face Brazil's Santos or home side Kashiwa Reysol.
Nobody is giving Al Sadd, who were crowned kings of Asia last month, a chance against a Barca side that stormed back to the top of La Liga with last weekend's hugely impressive 3-1 away victory over Jose Mourinho's Real.
But if there is a chink in the Catalans' armour, it might be fatigue and jet lag.
They flew out to Japan only hours after seeing off Mourinho's men, then endured a 13-hour flight, before touching down on Sunday night -- just four days before their semi-final in Yokohama, near Tokyo.
"It's tough," coach Pep Guardiola said of the tight schedule and the eight-hour time difference between Japan and Spain.
"It's something I experienced myself as a player and it was very difficult getting used to being in a different time zone, over and above the fatigue from a long flight.
"Two years ago we only had to go to Abu Dhabi, which is just a few hours ahead (of Spain), whereas here the difference is much greater.
"Ideally we'd come here in plenty of time, a week or 10 days ahead, but unfortunately our fixture list is very full."