AS NEYMAR HITS 100TH CAP MARK, SINGAPORE IS HIS ‘LUCKY’ HUNTING GROUND

Singapore was where Brazil superstar Neymar restarted his international career after a heart-breaking injury at the 2014 World Cup on home soil.

That October, he scored all four goals as the Selecao beat Japan 4-0 before he went on to win La Liga, the King’s Cup and the Champions League with Barcelona that season.

The 27-year-old considers the Republic his lucky ground, and hopes Singapore will provide one more turning point in his career as he guns for another spectacular showing when the Selecao play Senegal at the National Stadium tonight as part of the Brazil Global Tour.

At the pre-match press conference, Neymar, who is expected to start up front alongside Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus, said: “I expect to score more and that Singapore will give me luck again.”

Towards the end of last season, he was beset with problems. The Brazilian clashed with fans at Paris Saint-Germain as speculation mounted of a possible return to his former club Barcelona, was accused of rape and then suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of the Copa America which Brazil won.

For someone touted to replace Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as the world’s best footballer, his star looked on the wane.

But like he has done a few times before, Neymar is dusting himself off and knuckling down as he bids to bring more glory to club and country.

I have been playing for the national team for almost 10 years and I have a lot of responsibility and carry a lot of pressure. I don’t hide any of this and if you look at my 10 years, I have developed a good chapter here.

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In his first five Ligue One games this season, he has scored four times, three of them match-winners. With all his goals scored after the 70th minute, it suggests he is switched on once again.

He said: “Unfortunately these last two years, I had two serious injuries and the recovery took so long.

“I prepared my mind to return to action but it was a really long summer for me. I prepared myself for every circumstance. I was prepared to leave or stay in Paris. I knew I needed to prepare myself. And now I have started this season in a really good way.

“Yeah, I believe that I can be the best in the world, and help Brazil be the best in the world.”

As with most talismanic players, when Neymar is on song, his teams are incredibly hard to beat.

Yesterday, when Selecao legend Bebeto presented him with a Brazil jersey bearing the number 100 and a golden plaque to commemorate him reaching a century of national team appearances tonight, Neymar was reflective even though he can look back at an amazing statistic: He has scored 61 international goals with Brazil losing only once when he has found the back of the net.

Former Brazil striker Bebeto handing talisman Neymar a jersey with the number 100 yesterday to commemorate the latter’s 100th cap for Brazil in today’s match against Senegal. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

“There were disappointments, defeats, I made a lot of mistakes,” said Neymar, who is Brazil’s seventh-most capped player and third-highest goal scorer.

“I have been playing for the national team for almost 10 years and I have a lot of responsibility and carry a lot of pressure.

“I don’t hide any of this and if you look at my 10 years, I have developed a good chapter here. I had my time when I was a junior player and now, I am one of the most important players in the world.

“This is not a lack of humility. I think no one here is jealous about that and it was the same with me. I wasn’t jealous about this kind of players when I was a young player.

“If you are persistent, you believe in the battle, you can be victorious in the end. I’m very happy to reach the 100-cap mark.”

It was not all joy in the Brazil camp, though, as Reuters reported that coach Tite was unhappy over not being able to train at the National Stadium a day before the match

-The Straits Times

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