Neymar tricks take centrestage as Brazil shine in friendly
Neymar's hattrick lit up a powerful Brazil performance as the 32 nations taking part in this year's World Cup tested out their squads on a busy night of friendlies on Wednesday which also brought victories for Spain, Germany and France.
Barcelona forward Neymar was unstoppable for tournament hosts Brazil as they demolished a poor South Africa side 5-0 in the Soweto Soccer City stadium which hosted the 2010 final between Spain and the Netherlands. It was also a good day for Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo who scored twice in Portugal's 5-1 win over Cameroon, making him his country's all-time leading scorer with 49 goals.
But Neymar's Barcelona team mate Lionel Messi had an off-colour night for Argentina in Romania, vomiting on the field early in a dull 0-0 draw in Bucharest. Home advantage makes Brazil slight favourites to win a sixth World Cup this year, but a host of usual suspects will travel to the south American country with genuine hopes of gate-crashing the Samba party which starts in 99 days.
World and European champions Spain are chief among them and they underlined their pedigree with a 1-0 victory over Italy in a repeat of the Euro 2012 final.
Pedro scored the game's only goal in Atletico Madrid's Calderon Stadium.
Germany, also bidding to become Europe's first winner of a World Cup in south America, edged past Chile 1-0 and 1998 winners France, who struggled through qualifying, beat the Netherlands 2-0.
Neymar was the day's outstanding performer, though, scoring once in the first half and twice after the break to take his tally for his country to 30. Chelsea's Oscar had opened the scoring and Fernandinho completed the rout. "I have no doubt that we are ready," PSG's Thiago Silva said on O Globo's website.
With time running out for players to book their places in World Cup squads, Wednesday's friendlies provided a valuable opportunity for coaches to examine their options for the last time before naming their provisional squads. England manager Roy Hodgson was one of them. He watched his side labour to a 1-0 win over Denmark with Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge scoring late to ensure they did not lose three friendly matches in a row at Wembley.
World Cup dark horses Belgium drew 2-2 with African qualifiers Ivory Coast, for whom Didier Drogba was on target, while Switzerland and Croatia also shared four goals.