Neymar celebrates putting Brazil in front against Panama. Reuters

Nine days before opening their home World Cup against Croatia, Brazil continued their preparations in impressive fashion with a Neymar-inspired 4-0 victory over Panama in Goiania. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari went with a strong lineup for his side’s penultimate tune up match, and after a slow start they delivered with goals from Neymar, Dani Alves, Hulk and Willian against the Central American side, who narrowly missed out on qualifying for their first World Cup.

From the lineup expected to start against Croatia, captain Thiago Silva was rested, while Paulinho was left out nursing a slight injury, handing opportunities to Dante and Ramires. Despite the familiarity of the side, it was a slow start from those on the field with several passes going astray in a scrappy opening.

It wasn’t until the 27th minute that the match was ignited, when Neymar showed just why he has such expectations on his shoulders to inspire Brazil to glory on home soil in the next six weeks. From a central position 25 yards out, the Barcelona forward whipped a brilliant curling free-kick into the side of the goal, away from the despairing dive of Oscar McFarlane.

The goal proved the catalyst for a superb display from Neymar. Moments later, some delightful skill on the byline almost set up Fred to head in. Brazil would not have to wait long to make it 2-0. Five minutes before the break, Dani Alves took full advantage of an open avenue for a shot from distance and fired a low drive into the corner of the net.

Brazil’s intensity increased further in a second half that could have yielded far more than just the two goals. Just two minutes into the period, Neymar produced a piece of brilliance with a back flick that got Hulk in behind the Panama defense and the powerful forward met it with a stylish first-time finish with the outside of his left foot.

Fred will have been disappointed not to have gotten on the score sheet when he mistimed a header after more good work from Neymar, who soon had his own effort blocked at the near post. Neymar was now running the show and played his part in Brazil’s fourth goal. Allowed space to run into through the middle, Neymar’s perfect pass found Maxwell advancing down the left and his low cross was turned in by fellow-substitute Willian.

There could have been further goals late on with Neymar again going close, Hulk being denied a clear penalty, while there was a bizarre moment when Panama’s Gabriel Gomez was given a red card for a blatant handball in his own penalty box, before the referee changed his decision and instead awarded a free-kick Panama’s way. That will be of little concern to Scolari, however, after an encouraging performance from his team and especially its talisman.