TERESOPOLIS, BRAZIL – Neymar feels he has nothing to worry about at the World Cup.
He is playing in the biggest tournament of his life the same way he played in tournaments in Brazil when he was a teenager. And it’s a simple secret that keeps him at ease no matter the stage: He just reminds himself how lucky he is.
Neymar knows he is carrying the hopes of the entire host nation at the World Cup, but says he is not letting that get into his head.
“There is no pressure when you are living your dream,” the 22-year-old Brazil and Barcelona star said. “I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do since I was a little kid. Today my dream is coming true, I’m playing the matches that I’ve always wanted to be playing.”
He said he knows it’s “an honor” to be where he is, and that he is aware that millions of Brazilians would do anything to be in his shoes.
In just his first World Cup, Neymar is already playing well enough to show why Brazilians consider him one of the country’s best players of all time.
He leads the tournament with four goals in three matches, and already has more World Cup goals then Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Argentina’s Messi has scored three goals in 10 matches in soccer’s showcase event since debuting in the 2006 tournament, while Portugal’s Ronaldo, chosen as the world’s best player this year, has two goals in 12 World Cup matches, also dating back to 2006.
Pele also scored four goals in his first three World Cup matches in 1958.
“People talk about Neymar having a chance to be the best in the world, but that will be a consequence of what he does for Brazil,” coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. “It’s something that will likely come naturally.”
The day before the opening match, Neymar said he only has one goal at this World Cup.
“I don’t want to be the best player, I don’t want to be the top scorer,” he said. “All I want is to win the World Cup title. It’s what I always dreamed about. It doesn’t matter how it happens, I just want to win the title.”
Neymar is the leading scorer in this Brazil squad with 35 goals in 52 matches. Striker Fred is closest to him with 18 goals in 37 games.
“All I want to do is play football and help my teammates and my team,” Neymar said. “Not only by scoring goals, but also by doing everything possible to help Brazil win.”
Neymar was decisive for Brazil when it needed him most. He scored twice in the difficult 3-1 win over Croatia, then got the first two goals in the 4-1 victory over Cameroon on Monday. Neymar had Brazil’s best chances in the 0-0 draw against Mexico, but was denied by a great performance by goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
At halftime of Brazil’s win against Cameroon, after Neymar had already scored both of his goals, television images showed several members of Cameroon’s squad asking to take photos with the Brazilian striker as he went into the dressing room.
Neymar had always been a promising player in Brazil, where he thrived with club Santos since he was only 17 years old. But there were doubts about his greatness with the national team until he finally came up big in last year’s Confederations Cup, the World Cup warm-up tournament. He was voted the competition’s best player and led the hosts to the title with four goals, including one in the final against Spain.
Neymar and Brazil will play Chile in the round of 16 on Saturday in Belo Horizonte, where the hosts again will be the favorites to advance.
“We are on the right track,” Neymar said.