Uruguay made sure it was anything but a friendly for Neymar.
The Selecao captain shouldered the responsibility as Brazil snatched a narrow win over an undermanned Uruguay, who displayed their trademark fight despite having almost a whole team out through injury.
It was a far from vintage performance from Brazil and their talisman on a dreary night at Emirates Stadium - Oscar Tabarez's side made sure of it - with Neymar's second-half penalty proving the difference.
La Celeste's lengthy absentee list included goalkeeper Fernando Muslera and centre-back duo Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez, as well as midfield pair Nahitan Nandez and Camilo Mayada due to their impending Copa Libertadores final duties for Boca Juniors and River Plate respectively.
But Tabarez's team produced a typically Uruguayan display – one of intensity, toughness and counter-attacking to give Tite's side a serious test they only scraped through thanks to Neymar's 60th international goal.
Uruguay's veteran boss Tabarez may have lost trusted midfield lieutenants Diego Perez and Egidio Arevalo Rios, the menacing tandem that anchored the side that finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup and claimed a record-breaking Copa America title a year later, but his team remain dogged and difficult in the middle of the park.
On paper a midfield three of Rodrigo Bentancur, Lucas Torreira and Matias Vecino represents a significant shift – while the Arsenal midfielder combines a terrier-like quality with ball-playing abilities in the centre of the pitch, his team-mates are languid playmakers who provide the ideal foil for an attack headlined by Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. The reality was significantly different.
The trio spent most of the match chasing down Neymar as he drifted in from the left and attempted to get Brazil firing. Vecino and Torreira were shown yellow cards for scything down the Paris Saint-Germain superstar in deep areas, his stepovers and persistent dribbling lighting the fire of La Garra Charrua – the distinctively Uruguayan trait of possessing the greater intensity, anger and desire compared to an opponent.
Uruguay's line-up appeared sure to play into Neymar's hands. His mouth would surely have been watering when La Celeste's injury problems forced Tabarez to hand Mathias Suarez a debut at right-back and place 19-year-old Bruno Mendez, also earning his first cap, next to him in the centre of defence.
But the free role he is granted by Tite and which Filipe Luis' persistent attacking enables meant he rarely tested the inexperienced duo.
The former Barcelona star pulled a save from Martin Campana with an early free-kick and only got on the scoreboard in the 76th minute when Diego Laxalt sent Danilo to ground inside the box – referee Craig Pawson pointing to the spot following a signal from assistant Ian Hussin. Uruguay were incensed their hard work had been undone and Luis Suarez was booked for his protests.
Tite opted to play Roberto Firmino through the middle, insisting prior to kick-off the Liverpool striker is a "true number nine" and not a false one. However, his desire to drop off the front and participate in the build-up play often left Brazil without a focal point, something Richarlison could have provided had he not been placed on the left after coming on for Douglas Costa.
It was left to Neymar to make the difference and, despite Uruguay's non-stop hounding making life extremely difficult for him, he had the maturity to have the final say.
16. Dezember 2018
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|Rallying Bulls stun Spurs, LeBron and Ball post triple-doubles|
|Latham century puts New Zealand in commanding position|
|Mayfield leads Browns past Broncos|
|Canelo-GGG trilogy? We can make it happen – Alvarez|
|Canelo outclasses Fielding by third-round TKO|
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|Qatar unveils Lusail Stadium for 2022 World Cup|
|Lakers pair LeBron, Ball revel in triple-double feat|
|Allegri hails ´great professional´ Ronaldo|
|LeBron, Ball first Lakers team-mates with triple-doubles in same game since 1982|
|Premier League contenders Liverpool ready to win titles – Henderson|
|Hopkins´ two TDs help Texans close in on AFC South title with win over Jets|
|Courtois: Simeone criticises Real Madrid to boost popularity|
|Mourinho in the dark over transfers as Pogba rumours swirl again|
|Mourinho marvels at Salah going nuclear|
|The lucky ones - Mourinho assesses Liverpool´s title charge|
15. Dezember 2018
|Juventus boss Allegri turned his back on Ronaldo penalty|
|Dickerson hoping Barkley falls short of breaking his records|
|Bristol shock La Rochelle, Clermont win again|
|LeBron: Meeting Jordan for first time was godly|
|Ronaldo scores Juventus´ 5,000th Serie A goal|
|I was all over the place - Allen reaches Scottish Open final despite hangovers|
|Solari defends wasteful Asensio after slim Madrid win|
|Torino 0 Juventus 1: Ronaldo capitalises on Zaza woe|
|I do my work on the pitch – Icardi unconcerned by Inter contract discussions|
|Lyon defender Rafael set for three months out|
|Inter captain Icardi is the ´perfect´ striker – Spalletti|
|Fulham have to stick together, says Ranieri|
|Nuno hails ´very special´ Wolves achievement after third straight win|
|Stuttgart captain Gentner´s father dies at Hertha fixture|
|Valverde not desperate for new centre-back amid talk of Christensen loan|
|Toulouse and Saracens stay perfect in Champions Cup|
|Kovac lauds Bayern´s best performance of the season|
|Barcelona can get the best out of Coutinho and Dembele, claims Valverde|
|Borussia Dortmund 2 Werder Bremen 1: Alcacer and Reus guarantee top spot for mid-season break|
|Bristol City 2 Norwich City 2: Canaries knocked off their perch despite late equaliser|
|Atletico´s fighting spirit lauded by Simeone, Godin|
|Hodgson relieved to see Palace end Zaha curse|
|Real Madrid 1 Rayo Vallecano 0: Benzema secures steady response to CSKA loss|
|Fulham 0 West Ham 2: Snodgrass, Antonio punish profligate hosts|
|Warnock brands refereeing situation ´a disgrace´ after Watford defeat|
|Inter 1 Udinese 0: Icardi penalty gets lethargic Nerazzurri back on track|
|Wagner retains belief in survival bid despite Newcastle defeat|
|Griezmann feeling the strain after busy 2018|
|Pochettino ´so pleased´ as tired Tottenham scrap to Burnley win|
|Man Utd hand Smalling new contract|
|ES Tunis 0 Al Ain 3: Convincing victory books River Plate semi|
|Championship Review: Bamford fires Leeds to summit, Middlesbrough defeated by QPR|
|Curry reacts to Kings´ trolling with moon landing video|
|Wentz ruled out of Rams clash|
|Pochettino reaches 100 Premier League wins for Tottenham faster than Wenger for Arsenal|
|Real Valladolid 2 Atletico Madrid 3: Griezmann the hero on landmark appearance|
|Silva rues Richarlison´s missed chances at City|
|Gibson has no worries over Proteas batsmen|
|Wolves 2 Bournemouth 0: Jimenez and Cavaleiro score against toothless Cherries|
|Crystal Palace 1 Leicester City 0: Captain Milivojevic earns vital victory|
|Watford 3 Cardiff City 2: Hornets hang on despite late fightback|
|Tottenham 1 Burnley 0: Eriksen snatches victory at the death|
|Huddersfield Town 0 Newcastle United 1: Rondon strike settles scrap|
|Sabres suspend forward Berglund for failing to report to the team|
|Saunders thanks Fury for getting him ´back on the right track´|
|Hannover 0 Bayern Munich 4: Gnabry and Kimmich star in crushing win|
|I admire Sterling – Guardiola|
|City´s strength in depth makes it hard for me – Jesus|
|Jamieson holds slender lead in Malelane|
|Kashima Antlers 3 Guadalajara 2: Comeback win sets up Real Madrid semi-final|
|Hosszu claims fourth Hangzhou gold, Le Clos beaten by Santos|
|Manchester City 3 Everton 1: Jesus at the double as City go top|
|Parker defiant on low blow claims after ending 2018 ´with a bang´|