BERLIN — Neymar will be hoping to become the latest Brazilian superstar at a World Cup by leading them to the title on home ground but is likely to face stiff competition from Lionel Messi and others for tournament stardom.
Neymar certainly looked good and fully recovered from a foot injury when he scored and had two assists in Brazil’s 4-0 over Panama in a midweek tune-up game.
But the 22-year-old vowed to become even better in the final countdown to Brazil’s tournament opener on June 12 against Croatia to follow in the footsteps of such famous compatriots as Pele, Garrincha and Ronaldo.
“I am not ready yet, I’m a bit short of top form. I felt a bit tired towards the end of the match. There are nine days left, and I will gradually attain ideal fitness,” Neymar said.
Neymar had his real Brazil breakthrough last year by leading the Selecao to the Confederations Cup title. His genius will be needed again if Brazil want to achieve the ultimate goal of lifting the World Cup trophy on July 13 at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.
Neymar said recently he hopes to control his nerves amid the sky-high expectations — which are effectively just as high for his Barcelona team-mate Messi in neighbouring Argentina.
The four-times World Footballer of the Year Messi has had the odd niggle in a slightly below-par Barcelona season and just one World Cup goal to his credit from 2006 and 2010.
He still needs to fully deliver in Argentina’s blue and white although he scored a memorable hat-trick in a friendly against Brazil two years ago.
Messi is Argentina’s captain and his portrait (along with those of Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero) also graces the aircraft that the two-times world champions will be using for the World Cup.
While Brazil and Argentina are hot title contenders, any possible Most Valuable Player glory for the reigning World Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo may depend on how far he goes with his Portugal team.
However, there is concern about his fitness in the wake of knee and hamstring problems although Ronaldo played — and scored — for Real Madrid in the 4-1 Champions League final against Atletico Madrid in late May.
“We all hope that Ronaldo will recover,” said Portugal defender Joao Pereira.
Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar are the most obvious favorites to dazzle fans and torment the opposition, but there are other contenders as well, ranging from flamboyant Italian striker Mario Balotelli to quiet midfielder Andres Iniesta whose goal in the 2010 final gave Spain a first World Cup title.
Germans such as Mesut Oezil, Thomas Mueller, Mario Goetze or Marco Reus could also play a leading role, just as Eden Hazard from dark horses Belgium, Dutchman Robin van Persie or his English Manchester United teammate Wayne Rooney.
Injuries could derail the ambitions of Frenchman Franck Ribery, Chile’s Arturo Vidal or Luis Suarez of Uruguay, while Colombian striker Radamel Falcao and England’s Theo Walcott are two famous names on a who’s who list of players who are definitely out injured.
And then there are those who failed to qualify, such as Welshman Gareth Bale and Sweden’s Zlatan Ibramimovic, the latter going out in the play-offs against Ronaldo’s Portugal.
The world will surely miss “Ibracadabra” magic in Brazil, and rightly so, as far as the man himself is concerned.
“A World Cup without me is not worth watching,” he famously said.