Neymar wants to create history as he leads Brazil to the UEFA finals

Photo When Brazil picked Neymar as its fourth player for the FIFA World Cup finals, he was already a prodigy with a few remarkable accomplishments under his belt. The 21-year-old had started playing football…

Neymar wants to create history as he leads Brazil to the UEFA finals

Photo

When Brazil picked Neymar as its fourth player for the FIFA World Cup finals, he was already a prodigy with a few remarkable accomplishments under his belt. The 21-year-old had started playing football at five and joined Santos when he was just 12. He had won more matches than any other player at the club, and had already scored over 30 goals, more than anyone else in Brazil’s professional football.

To describe Neymar as a phenomenon at any stage would be an understatement.

Few, however, could have predicted that his rise to the top would be meteoric. Since arriving in Spain, he has helped Real Madrid win the Champions League, and was the top scorer in La Liga as they became champions. With Paris Saint-Germain, he has broken just about every club scoring record that exists. “I hope,” he said, “to have more than Lionel Messi.”

But when Sweden plays Brazil in the quarterfinal of the UEFA European Championships on Thursday, they will do so as a team led by a player who has grown into a dominant force in world football.

In just a few years, Neymar has gone from an intriguing young talent to a leader in the team that has advanced to the quarterfinals of the Champions League, the most prestigious competition in the sport.

Real Madrid famously spent €222 million on Neymar. Yet he has largely stayed out of the limelight at the Santiago Bernabeu, once offering an apology to the president for missing a dinner (he overslept).

Over four months in the league, he has scored 42 goals and assisted seven others. Brazilians also remember Neymar’s star turn against Peru on Saturday, when he scored four goals and set up two others as his side won 4-1.

“Let’s see how I am going to change with every match that I play,” he said, “with each passing day that I stay on the pitch.”

Brazil has been in search of a new golden era ever since Ronaldo retired, with Diego Maradona its first great player of the 21st century.

Argentina and Germany had dominated, but Brazilian champions in recent years have been restricted to Uruguay and Spain. Neymar hopes that he can change that.

Neymar has talked about his childhood dreams of being a great footballer, playing in the World Cup and winning the European Championship. “I think the current generation has the qualities,” he said. “We want to live it.”

This is what he and many Brazilian supporters believe the end of a decades-long generation gap between Brazilian and European footballers looks like: being a football star in Europe, with the chance to dominate an entire game, one tournament at a time.

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