Football: Neymar wants it all - for Brazil

Brazil's iconic No. 10 would rather win the World Cup than be best player in the world

The World Cup trophy is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for Neymar, who has unfinished business at football's showpiece event, having fractured his vertebra in the 2014 quarter-finals.
The World Cup trophy is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for Neymar, who has unfinished business at football's showpiece event, having fractured his vertebra in the 2014 quarter-finals. PHOTO: EPA-EFE


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Fame, wealth, the love of his country. Yet Neymar wants more. Not individual accolades, however, but to be part of a team that captures football's greatest prize.

Despite a lack of match fitness, the 26-year-old should start in Brazil's Group E opener tonight against Switzerland. His appearance comes after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi both played over the weekend.

In an interview with Brazilian YouTube channel Desimpedidos released on Friday, Neymar, who is the world's most expensive footballer, said: "For all modesty, today I am the best player in the world - because they (Ronaldo and Messi) are from another planet."

He added: "I don't want to be the best player in the world - I want to win the World Cup. Winning the trophy would make myself, my family and my country so happy."

Under Tite's tutelage, the Selecao have moved on from the 7-1 semi-final humiliation by Germany in 2014 and even exorcised their demons by beating the Germans 1-0 in a friendly in March.

Tite is aided by the emergence of players in key positions like goalkeeper Alisson Becker, defensive midfielder Casemiro, and attackers Philippe Coutinho, Willian, Roberto Firminho and Gabriel Jesus to support Neymar in a 4-3-3.

For all of Neymar's gifts - he scored against Croatia and Austria on his comeback and is among Brazil's joint-third leading goalscorers - it is vital the team are not dependent on their iconic No. 10, noted former striker Bebeto.

The 54-year-old, whose goals fired Brazil to victory in the 1994 World Cup, is now a state legislator in Rio de Janeiro. He told The Sunday Times: "There will be tough games and Neymar will have opportunities to shine but, to do that, he needs all the team to work together. The strong characteristic now is teamwork."

Neymar, one of only six survivors from four years ago, has unfinished business at the World Cup. He missed the Germany defeat in 2014 after he fractured his vertebra in the quarter-finals.

"Kicking and tackling are not my job," Neymar said in the Desimpedidos video. "If I get kicked, I will keep dribbling and the opposition will get frustrated."

He has looked in excellent spirits in the tournament build-up, laughing and joking with his team-mates on the training pitch in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans at an open training session.

Jesus said: "He (Neymar) is important off the field as well. He is always giving advice. That is very important. I really believe that having a good relationship, considering one as a brother, lifts you on the field. You run more for your friend."

Tite, who was so upset at being overlooked for the job in 2014 that he cried and left for Europe to study tactics under Italian Carlo Ancelotti, has fostered a family culture in the team right from his first game in charge. After the 3-0 win over Ecuador in 2016, he invited the staff and security guards to join in the team prayers.

Bebeto praised Tite's work and said: "He has restored the credibility we lost. We now have a good coach who gave us back the joy and happiness, especially for the players. He built a very good team, very solid tactics, with special players, very unique and talented players."

The sixth-ranked Swiss are expected to be world No. 2 Brazil's toughest challenge in a group that also contains Costa Rica and Serbia.

Their collective defiance is personified by Ricardo Rodriguez, born with his intestines, liver, spleen and stomach in his chest and given a 50 per cent chance to live.

The 25-year-old recovered, is AC Milan's first-choice left-back and scored Switzerland's winner in the first leg of the qualifying play-offs against Northern Ireland.

Manager Vladimir Petkovic said: "The team have cultivated a good style and can be flexible when needed. But we should keep our feet firmly on the ground because, frankly, we are not that good (compared with some teams).

"We have got to keep working, with great love for football. There is a gap to the top teams, therefore I expect even more determination to close that gap."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 17, 2018, with the headline Football: Neymar wants it all - for Brazil. Subscribe