As Neymar prepared to play for Brazil in his first World Cup Already in 2014 there was a lot of hype about him.
He had just joined Spanish club Barcelona from Santos as one of the most promising young players in the world. And he had impressed with the Catalan club early on, quickly earning star status in the world of football.
The usual questions surrounding Neymar at the time revolved around when – not if – he would be crowned the best in the world.
Fast forward eight years, however, and things have changed significantly. The Brazilian remains one of the best players in the world but he hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that came with his high-profile move to Europe.
Neymar lost visibility after joining Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 and it’s been a while since he was considered for the Player of the Year award.
His performances with Brazil at World Cups have largely been disappointing since their home tournament in 2014, when he was carried away on a stretcher in the quarter-finals with a back injury. At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Neymar crouched on the field and stared in disbelief as the Belgian players celebrated their win over Brazil in the last eight.
He was pivotal for Brazil as the country won its first Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, a feat that was celebrated nationally and earned him much praise.
But at 30, the questions surrounding Neymar ahead of the World Cup in Qatar are a bit different.
Did he make a mistake leaving Barcelona to join PSG? Will he be overshadowed by Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé? Has it passed its zenith?
But for Neymar the only question that really matters is whether he can come through for Brazil and lead the national team to their first World Cup in 20 years.
“I don’t want to let this World Cup pass me by,” Neymar said earlier this year. “I don’t want to miss this opportunity. I’m doing everything to prepare myself physically and mentally for it. That’s my biggest dream at the moment. I’m focused on winning this title.”
This year’s World Cup could mean redemption for Neymar and if he finds a way to lead Brazil to the title in Qatar his name will most likely be at the top of the prize list again.
“I will give my life at the World Cup,” Neymar said in a conversation with former Brazilian midfielder Diego Ribas. “It’s a unique moment. I’ve had two world championships and now I know how it works. Everything moves very quickly and if you’re not at 100%, if you’re not prepared, the opportunity will pass you by.”
Neymar, who as a youngster said his dream was to become the best player in the world, has done well again this season and is one of the leaders of a PSG side hoping to finally claim their first Champions League title to win. He’s going into the World Cup as one of the fittest players – which he doesn’t rule out as his last.
“He’s flying now,” said Brazil coach Tite.
Neymar was seemingly unaffected by the recent cheating procedure regarding his transfer from Santos to Barcelona in 2013, where he and his father are among those accused of concealing the true cost of the transfer. He faces more than two years in prison if found guilty, although some of the charges against him have been dropped.
Tite is no doubt relying on Neymar to take the helm and guide Brazil in Qatar and is hoping his talent – and now his maturity – will finally make the difference and give the national side a chance to claim their first World Cup winning since 2002 when Neymar was still only 10th.
And hopefully for Brazil, instead of leaving the field on a stretcher like in 2014 or watching opponents celebrate like in 2018, Neymar will end his World Cup run by lifting the trophy for his team and people.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni