- 13 Jun 2016
Neymar aiming to end Brazil’s wait for Olympic football gold
One of the finest players in the world today, Neymar will be the star act in a Brazil side that is heading to Rio 2016 with designs on winning the one major trophy that still eludes the great footballing nation.
“If Brazil have yet to win the football gold medal that we’re all dreaming about, then it means our time is still to come,” says a philosophical Neymar da Silva Santos Junior as he contemplates his national team’s longstanding unfulfilled quest for Olympic gold.
I had such an amazing time at my first Games and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.Neymar Brazil
Frequent occupants of top spot in the world rankings, the birthplace of dozens of legendary players, among them three-time world champion Pelé, and the only national team that has been ever present in all 20 FIFA World Cups, with a record five tournament wins to date, Brazil have, mystifyingly, never managed to replicate their supremacy on the Olympic stage.
The Seleção have collected three silvers over the years, finishing runners-up to France at Los Angeles 1984, the Soviet Union at Seoul 1988, and Mexico at London 2012. There have also been two bronze medals - at Atlanta 1996 and Beijing 2008. When they step out in front of their own fans at Rio 2016, however, the Auriverde will do so with the sole intention of finally ending their search for Olympic gold.
The Brazilians are banking on their star man Neymar to help them accomplish that cherished objective. Born on 5 February 1992 in the state of Sao Paulo, the Barcelona star got himself noticed at an early age thanks to his speed on the ball, elusive dribbling, the quality of his passing and his nose for goal. Having joined the youth ranks at top Brazilian club Santos in 2003, he broke into the first team six years later.
After four seasons playing for Santos in the Brazilian top flight, he signed for Spanish giants Barcelona, where he now forms part of the fabled “MSN” attacking triumvirate with Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez.
Capped by his country at every age level, he won the U-20 South American title in 2011. Next came a trip to London 2012, where he scored three times but could not find the net in a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Mexico in the final, played in front of 86,000 fans at Wembley Stadium.
“London was so special,” he says, shrugging off that setback. “I had such an amazing time at my first Games and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”
Named the player of the tournament in the Seleção’s 2013 Confederations Cup triumph, Neymar went into the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil as the host nation’s most important player, a status he lived up to by guiding the team to victory over Croatia and Cameroon in the group phase and Chile in the Round of 16.
His World Cup came to a premature end in the quarter-final against Colombia, with a back injury causing a national drama and ultimately ruling him out of the tournament. Further grief was to come the home fans’ way when a Brazil side patently missing the influence of the livewire forward crashed to a 7-1 defeat to Germany in the semi-final.
Wreaking havoc on the domestic and European fronts with Messi and Suarez, Neymar has helped Barcelona win back-to-back Spanish league titles in the last two seasons. In 2015, he and his team-mates also won the UEFA Champions League and the Club World Cup.
Now his country’s national team captain, Neymar has been named as one of Brazil three over-age players in the squad that will go for that elusive Olympic gold on home soil.
The Olympic experience
To ensure he is fit and raring to go for the Rio Games, the 24-year-old will skip the Copa America Centenario which takes place in the USA on 3-26 June. “In my mind I’ve pictured playing in the Games in my country, and it’s going to be a dream come true for me,” he says. “I’ve played in the Confederations Cup and the World Cup in Brazil, and the Olympic Games will complete the set. I’m going to be so happy about it.
“The Olympics are different, because every sport is there,” he adds. “The whole world is watching and it’s an occasion that brings friends and family together. I loved watching the Games on TV when I was a boy, and I had the honour of achieving that goal very early in my career, before playing in the World Cup.
“I really can’t wait to see Usain Bolt in action. I’m a big fan. I also want to see Brazil in the volleyball and basketball and watch our swimmers and judokas, though what I’m looking forward to most of all is soaking up the atmosphere in the Olympic Village. In London we weren’t with the other athletes, and I think it’s going to be very different this time. I really admire the Brazilian athletes, and it’s going to be fantastic to share this experience with them.”
Neymar’s quest for gold, which begins on 4 August, will take him to Brasilia, Salvador, Sao Paulo and, if all goes according to plan, the Maracanã in Rio, where a whole nation will be hoping to see their long wait for Olympic glory finally come to an end.