NEYMAR has already done a lot at the Confederations Cup over the past couple of weeks to erase doubts about what he can do for Brazil.
Another good performance in the final against Spain tomorrow evening – the match kicks off at 11pm BST – and few will be able to dismiss him as the future of Brazilian football.
Neymar made headlines across the world before the Confederations Cup by signing for Barcelona, but he arrived at the World Cup warm-up tournament marked by lacklustre performances in the famous yellow jersey.
He quickly changed that by scoring three goals in four matches, leading Brazil to the much-anticipated final against Spain. The 21-year-old striker was voted man of the match in the team’s first three matches and was decisive again in the 2-1 semi-final win over Uruguay on Wednesday night.
“I’m really happy with how things have turned out for me and for the national team so far,” Neymar said at a press conference yesterday. “We only have one match left and I hope we can play well to finish off with the title.”
The decisive match against world and European champions Spain at the Maracana Stadium provides the perfect stage for Neymar to lift his first significant title with Brazil and to try to prove his critics wrong for good. He has been waiting for that chance for a long time, and had said before the tournament began that “it would be a dream come true” to play the final against the Spaniards.
“I’m anxious already,” the Brazilian striker said. “This is a match that can stay with me for the rest of my life. I will be defending my country with the entire world watching.”
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said Neymar has already proved his worth, regardless of how he plays in the final.
“Barcelona must be beaming seeing what he has been doing here,” Scolari said. “He has been playing well, making a difference against European defenders.”
Wearing the No 10 jersey, Neymar opened the scoring for Brazil in the opener against Japan and also in the second match against Mexico, both times with remarkable goals. He netted his third with a well-placed free kick against Italy and he also assisted in both Brazil goals on Wednesday against Uruguay.
“Neymar is our idol, he is the people’s idol,” Scolari said. “He has had a nice string of matches and everybody is happy about that. It’s important for him to be going through all of these different situations with Brazil because it’s something that will make him even better in the future.”
Neymar attracted everyone’s attention with great performances with Santos in Brazil, but critics were quick to downplay his potential after he failed to replicate that same success with the national team.
He was often criticised for diving too much, an issue that came up again during the Confederations Cup when Uruguay captain Diego Lugano publicly accused the Brazilian striker of trying to “fool the referees and the rivals”.
The remarks prompted the Brazilian Football Federation to put out a lengthy statement in the player’s defence.
“It’s worth repeating that Neymar doesn’t need to resort to diving to play the type of football that is enchanting the world,” the federation said.
At the tournament, Neymar has, like many attackers, gone to ground easily, but has also looked more muscular and resistant to the attentions of some of Europe’s best and biggest defenders.
Neymar had been struggling before announcing his move to Barcelona. He hadn’t scored in nine matches and many doubted whether he would come through for Brazil.
The Confederations Cup is his third significant competition with the national team. He helped Brazil’s under-20 squad win the South American championship in 2011, but his first test with the senior team was the 2011 Copa America, when Brazil were eliminated by Paraguay in the quarter-finals.
The second was in the 2012 London Olympics, when he was the star of the Brazilian squad that were favourites to win their first Olympic gold medal in football, but left with the silver after a loss to Mexico.
Neymar was among the players loudly jeered by home fans after playing poorly in a 2-2 draw in a friendly with Chile earlier this year. That seems a long time ago.
“The Brazilian fans are completely behind us now,” Neymar said. “They are supporting us no matter what and hopefully they will be our 12th player again on Sunday to help us win this title.”
del Bosque backs ‘suffering’ Spain
VICENTE Del Bosque admitted world and European champions Spain had “suffered” in seeing off Italy in their Confederations Cup semi-final on Thursday evening.
Del Bosque’s men were second best for large parts of a match which finished goalless after 90 minutes and extra time. But the shoot-out went their way with the first 12 penalties converted before Leonardo Bonucci sent his over the bar, allowing Manchester City winger Jesus Navas to score the decisive spot-kick. Spain meet hosts Brazil in the final tomorrow.
“We suffered a lot against an excellent team,” said Del Bosque. “They were better than us in the first half, when we played awkwardly. They opened the pitch up thanks to full-backs [Christian] Maggio and [Emanuele] Giaccherini. We tried to solve the problem but couldn’t, but we managed to cancel them out by correcting our errors. We were better in extra time, and it’s amazing that the match ended goalless.
“The players need to relax now and stay calm because they put in a tremendous effort.”
Del Bosque was visibly nervous during the penalty shoot-out and watched it alone from the dugout, while the substitutes and the rest of his coaching staff congregated on the touchline. He later explained that his assistant, Toni Grande, chose the penalty takers. “We had players that were confident takers, but you can’t train yourself for penalties. There is no real preparation for being up there.”
The clash with Brazil is one which excites veteran Del Bosque. “We have that childish excitement about facing Brazil at the Maracana. It’s stupendous for us. I hope we are physically fresh. We will try to represent our country well and be a headache for Brazil,” he said.
Navas was admirably relaxed when slotting in the decisive kick against Italy. “I was calm, because this group of players transmits tranquillity and confidence,” he said.