Neymar knows Qatar well, given that since he joined Paris Saint-Germain in 2017, he and his team regularly travel to the small Middle Eastern emirate to support training camps. It could therefore be the ideal place to allow the Brazilian, already somewhat contested, to secure a place of honor in the annals as a driver of a national team in search of its sixth star to display on the shirt.
Often criticized for his irreproachable work ethic, Neymar and his team-mates received two warnings from Argentina – from his friend and teammate Lionel Messi – and Germany about the unexpected consequences a failed world debut could have. And the green-and-gold will have to pay close attention to a Serbia that on paper is a very tough nut to crack.
A long awaited success
However the pressure, in some ways suffocating, of the Brazilian media who observe with very attentive eyes every training session at the Grand Hamad Stadium in Doha, should ensure that the Seleçao does not take the world debut lightly. Furthermore, Neymar himself has shown excellent form so far in Ligue 1, with 11 goals and 9 assists in 14 games.
Neymar is the undisputed leader of the Brazilian national team. Coach Tite built his team around an outstanding player. It’s an honor and a pressure to succeed. «Since he arrived in the national team, the weight has been on his shoulders. One cannot do without this with the abilities of him. But he’s capable of handling it,” says defender Marquinhos, who like Neymar plays for Paris Saint-Germain.
The Brazilians enter the tournament as the main favourites, but also as a footballing nation that has waited 20 years for its next World Cup title – a small eternity for the South Americans. The years of the Neymar era were not very lucky in terms of team triumphs, with titles at the Confederations Cup in 2013 and victory at the 2016 Olympic Games on home soil in Rio de Janeiro.
These are two successes that cannot compensate for the greatest embarrassment in the history of the Brazil World Cup. Brazil have yet to make up for their 1-7 defeat by Germany in the 2014 semi-final. And rehabilitation means nothing more than winning the title. Should he succeed, Neymar would also have to match Pelé’s 77 goals for the national team.
Neymar for the difference
Even though Brazil has repeatedly fallen short of expectations in major tournaments in recent years, there is no doubting Neymar. “With a fit Neymar, we have excellent chances of winning the World Cup – says the former international and winner of the 2002 World Cup Cafu -, he is a player who really makes the difference”.
Neymar is great in many ways. Polarizes by the way he takes fouls, by the way he provokes his opponents, but also by his parties or, more recently, by his political statements. The fact that he supported far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro in the presidential elections, who was not re-elected, has been resented by some of his fans in his nation. He also wanted to dedicate his first World Cup goal to Bolsonaro.
Starting with the kick-off against Serbia in the Lusail Stadium which will also host the final, the past should be forgotten. Only with a strong Neymar can Brazil win the sixth star.