The FIFA Confederations Cup has given Brazil fans the opportunity to enjoy what Santos supporters have savoured over the last few years and Barcelona followers will soon enjoy: the heightened sense of anticipation that comes with watching Neymar getting on the ball.
The star had the Seleção fans on their feet as early as the third minute of Brazil’s opening match against Japan, thumping the ball into the top corner from just outside the box. And he had them drooling again towards the end of the meeting with Mexico, when he somehow worked some space in the tightest of situations to lay on a classy assist for strike partner Jo.
In the build-up to Sunday’s final against Spain at the Maracana, however, it is the Brazil ace’s turn to feel the anticipation, as he prepares for quite possibly the most important game of his young career – one in which he will be under pressure yet again to perform.
“It’s a big final and it’s got all the makings of a historic match,” he told FIFA.com. “We're aware of that. We hope to be able to write our name in the football history books, especially with the game taking place at the Maracana.”
The 21-year-old is sure to feel the pressure until the moment he steps out at the legendary stadium against Spain, the team who have set the standard in modern football. Let no-one be under the impression, however, that Neymar is in any way nervous about being in the spotlight.
Increasingly at ease with the growing media attention he generates, Neymar could not have been more relaxed as he spoke to the assembled press. He told reporters that he turned to team-mate Thiago Silva after Spain’s gruelling semi-final shootout win over Italy on Thursday and said he wished the final was being played on Friday and not Sunday. “We have to wait though, don’t we?” he joked.
Respect for La Roja
Players go through a whole gamut of emotions in the build-up to any decider, and Brazil’s main man has been through a few of them with Santos and knows what such occasions demand. Yet this is no ordinary decider, not when it’s being played at the Maracana, with him wearing Brazil’s feted No10 shirt, and with one of his favourite teams providing the opposition – a team he has selected and won with many times on the video game console!
Neymar believes that La Roja deserve to be considered favourites, in recognition of their status as the reigning world and two-time European champions: “We need to show respect, but we also need to impose ourselves on the pitch. Spain have brought their star players, and Brazil have brought theirs too.
“What we have to do is play football, without relying on anything else. We’re going up against the best team in the world, with the best footballers in the world, but we’ve got more than our fair share of talented players. There’s a huge amount of respect and admiration too, but we play good football and we have faith in one another. I think we can play a great game.”
As if there were not enough at stake on Sunday already, the match will also be Neymar’s farewell to Brazil, as a reporter reminded him during the press conference. After the Maracana it is destination Camp Nou. “I hadn’t thought about that,” replied Neymar, somewhat taken aback.
He had said his goodbyes to the Santos fans following a Campeonato Brasileiro game against Flamengo at the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha, the venue for the opening match of the Festival of Champions. On that occasion, he burst into tears while singing the national anthem, aware that an important phase in his career was coming to a close.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be like,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m going to cry. I do know it’s going to be emotional though.”
It will no doubt be hard for him to control his emotions. Quite apart from it being the last time he will see the Brazilian supporters for while, it is, as he puts it, a game that could well turn out to be historic, and one in which he expects to make his contribution. And when he takes to the pitch, it will be the fans who are feeling the tension and not him.