The FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 may have lasted for just 15 days, but for Neymar it probably seems like a whole lot longer, the Seleção ace putting the tension and uncertainty of the build-up firmly behind him to turn everything he touched into gold.
It was only a few short weeks ago that booing Neymar and questioning his talent seemed to be a national pastime. It all started when the fans at Santos, the team he had played for all his life and with whom he won three Campeonato Paulista titles, a Copa do Brasil and a Copa Libertadores, began criticising his performances as part of a side that had lost its way. Even on his final appearance for the club, at the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha in Brasilia, there were harsh words from the stands for the young star.
The 21-year-old then announced his move to Barcelona before joining up with the national team, where he was booed and jeered at in Brazil’s final warm-up match for the FIFA Confederations Cup, a 3-0 defeat of France. All of sudden his earlier achievements seemed to count for nothing. The general feeling was that he was overrated and still had an awful lot to prove, especially in the famous canary-yellow jersey.
Yet that all changed when the tournament got underway, with Neymar showing his ability to deliver on the big occasion, just one of many plus points that Brazil and their fans can take away with them from the competition.
From the stunning strike two minutes into the opening game against Japan – a match played at the same stadium where he had been booed on his Santos farewell just days earlier – to the left-footed thunderbolt against Spain and superb individual performance that sealed the adidas Golden Ball for him, Neymar could not have played a more decisive role. Having started the tournament under fire, he ended it with the adulation of the fans ringing in his ears.
As he explained in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com after Brazil’s 3-0 win at the Maracana, it is a turnaround he has not yet been able to take stock of, preferring instead to play down all talk concerning his huge individual contribution to his side’s success.
FIFA.com: Neymar, have you thought about the impact of playing for your country at home in a tournament like this will have on your career?
Neymar: I’ve got no idea to be honest. I can’t say what impact it will have. All I know is that winning this title is very important. It’s a massive step forward for the team and we are delighted to have achieved it. It was a great game between Brazil and Spain, one that the whole world stopped to watch, and we know that we played a fantastic match.
Did you think two weeks ago that the team would be champions and everything would go so well?
I honestly didn’t (laughs). I’ve just been speaking to my team-mates in the dressing room about how everything is coming together and how well things are going in every sense. I’m really pleased that things have ended on such a high note, with our best performance to date.
How much do you think the goal you scored at the start of the opening game against Japan helped ease the pressure for Brazil and you personally?
(Laughs) Well, I wasn’t really too bothered about that, about trying to stop people saying negative things about me. No, not at all. I just wanted to help my team-mates in the best way possible, whether it was by committing a foul, making a pass, scoring a goal or whatever. That day I helped by scoring a goal after only three minutes, a goal that I know was important for the team. At the end of the day that’s what matters: helping the team to win.
You helped in the Final in a number of ways and scored a goal that shows just how confident you are right now, weighing up your options and scoring for the second time in the competition with your left foot.
I’m always training and training, and I practise with my left foot and my right. My father always said to me, ever since I was a little boy: “You shouldn’t choose which foot to shoot with. If the ball falls on your left side, shoot with your left, and if it falls on your right, then shoot with your right.” I think I got the message (laughs). The ball came to me on my left foot and luckily I was able to get a good shot away.
Did your future club-mates congratulate you?
Yes, they did, which made me really happy because they’re players I admire and respect, and I’ll have the honour and the delight of playing next to them.
Do you think they will respect you more now?
(Laughs) Ah, no. I think they’ll respect me in the same way as everyone is respected at great clubs.