World Cup favorite Brazil is through to the knockout stage after a 2–0 win over Serbia, with national barometer Neymar turning in another understated but solid performance, which is to say: a few great touches, a corner-kick assist to the head of Thiago Silva, and a couple of big old dives.
It’s been that latter part of Neymar’s game that has distinguished his minutes at the World Cup so far, and nobody knows it better than Brazilians, who have been teasing their superstar with jokes and memes about how often he falls.
One line going around after Wednesday’s victory? Hoje eu vou beber até Neymar, or “Today I’m going to drink until Neymar.” Until I fall down.
Another, after Brazilian coach Tite tumbled over celebrating Philippe Coutinho’s late winner against Costa Rica, was a jab at the country’s unelected and extremely unpopular president, Michael Temer, who has persisted in office despite being implicated in a bribery scheme. Neymar falls. Tite falls. How about Temer?
One meme gave Neymar training wheels. Another had Neymar replacing Ben Franklin on the $100 bill. The dollar’s strength has hurt Brazil’s commodity exports and dampened foreign investment. Want to make the dollar fall? Put Neymar on the hundo.
The most widely shared photo was a macro of Neymar in various throes of agony after the game against Switzerland, which lent itself to all kinds of gags, including “When the alarm clock goes off at 6 a.m.” and “Neymar plays Twister.”
Buzzfeed Brazil ran a quiz, “Which falling Neymar are you?”
Generally speaking, Neymar memes are a national pastime. Even his girlfriend, the telenovela star Bruna Marquezine, has said she loves memes of her boyfriend—and has special WhatsApp groups for just that purpose.
When Brazilians mock Neymar’s diving, it’s a loving mockery. They also know that teams do tend to beat up on their superstar. And no one has forgotten what happened before Brazil’s 7–1 national disgrace at the hands of Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinal: a nasty tackle from Colombia’s Zuniga fractured a vertebra in Neymar’s lower back, ending his tournament and leaving him unsure he would play soccer again.
And so Brazilians manage to hold two ideas in their head about Neymar: He is both a football genius and a flopper. It’s an idea that might challenge the Manichean fandom of Americans whose allegiances and hatreds tend to be fanatical. (Some sporting heroes are complex! One man could be both a steroid user and the greatest hitter of all time.) And so when Neymar goes down, they look on with the worried eyes of Simba nudging the fallen Mufasa. A meme in the making is the best-case scenario.