- Luis Neto eyes first Confederations Cup appearance
- Portugal defender set to appear in his home city of four and a half years
- Zenit St. Petersburg centre-back became viral sensation after EURO celebrations
By Marco Monteiro with Portugal
Before talking to FIFA.com, a relaxed and soft-spoken Luis Neto looks at the camera, while a Portugal flag sits draped across the background, and says "Спасибо большое, Санкт-Петербург, город, который любит футбол!" (Thank you Saint Petersburg, a city that loves football).
Even knowing that Neto has spent years accumulating over 100 appearances for local club Zenit St Petersburg, it’s still a shock to hear the Portuguese speak Russian so effortlessly.
“It's been four and a half years with my family here,” he said. "I can say that it's a fantastic city to live in with a great quality of life. And these past four years have passed very easily.”
On Saturday, in Portugal’s first game in St Petersburg, Neto looks set to make his first appearance for the team at the tournament. “Playing for A Seleção always feels special,” said the central defender, "Here, in the city I live in, in the stadium of my club, I feel the significance. But to be honest, nothing is more special than playing for Portugal anywhere."
While coach Fernando Santos will need to rest key players for a potential semi-final clash against favourites Chile, or perhaps even a young and hungry German team, Portugal still has to put in a strong performance against a New Zealand side that almost stunned Mexico.
"We know it’s going to be a complicated game against New Zealand," said the 29-year old. "Already being eliminated, not having a chance to go through, they are going to want to deliver a good performance and finish the competition on a high note. From our side we just want to play a good game, win and pass through the group in first place."
While Neto was not selected for EURO 2016, he fought his way back into Santos' trusted 23-man collective for the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017. Despite missing the festivities in France, he made his own contribution on the day of the Final. Watching the match with some of his St Petersburg teammates, he burst out of his seat after Eder scored the match-winning goal, running up and down the room before bursting into an instantly viral victory dance.
Portugal fans the world over loved the sight of a player - who could so easily have been bitter or distant for being excluded from the tournament - celebrate as if he was there with his teammates on the pitch.
Asked if we could see a familiar Neto freestyle in Russia on 3 July, the defender laughed: “I don’t have anything prepared, but if we become champions for sure some improvisation will happen!” Pressed on whether that’s a promise, he said: "To win a trophy like this after the EURO would be very important for us. So 'if' we win, 'if', then yes, something spontaneous will come through me for sure."
— ФК «Зенит» (@zenit_spb) July 10, 2016