KEIR RADNEDGE in RIO DE JANEIRO: Neymar left no doubt about what Brazil’s Olympic gold medal triumph meant to him in the aftermath of the shootout victory over Germany in Maracana.
Brazil’s captain not only led the celebrations but could no bear to leave the pitch long after the medal presentations and was still parading around, in a daze, embracing team-mates, friends, strangers and as many children as they presented to share the historic moment.
In 2012 Neymar was a member of the Brazilian team who finished with ‘only’ silver in Mexico; in 2014 injury kept him on the sidelines as his World Cup team-mates crashed 7-1 at home to Germany in Belo Horizonte.
He had skipped the Copa America Centenario in June to give Barcelona no excuse to try to stop him leading his country’s bid for a first Olympic footall gold. Like his team-mates he struggled to put his name together at first, but he ended the tension-packed fortnight on top of the Olympic world.
He has offered to relinquish the captaincy of Brazil for the forthcoming World Cup finals but his personal, playing and leadership qualities should never now be questioned.
Coach Rogerio Micale said: “I decided I had wanted him to to be captain for this team. I thought he was the right player and he has proved it by the maturity of being ready to accept whatever [new coach] Tite decides for the World Cup.
“Personally, I have the best possible impressions of Neymar. The whole team does.
“I have been asked repeatedly how he compares with Brazil’s great players of the past. He is still only 24 and already he had won a second Olympic medal. His next step is to win a World Cup and he has all the attributes to make that happen.
“It’s hard to compare him with other players who played in different eras but everything’s pointing in the right drection, especially when you consider the titles he has already won his clubs and now his country.”
Rogerio also paid tribute to goalkeeper Weverton, a penalty specialist who had never been called up by the national team at any level before. The choice proved inspired when Weverton saved the last German kick by Nils Petersen.
The coach refused to put any pressure on Tite by suggesting which players should not feature in Brazil’s squad for the imminent World Cup qualifiers. He was satisfied that the Olympic effort had “contributed to the future of the national team as a whole.”
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