SAO PAULO (AP) — Neymar might not win three World Cups in his career like Pelé did, but he is closing in as the top goal scorer ever for Brazil’s national team.
He reduced the gap to nine after his Brazil’s 4-0 win over Peru on Thursday in the Copa America.
Official statistics from FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, put Pelé in No. 1 spot for Brazil with 77 goals. Neymar has 68 after he netted the Seleção’s second against Peru.
“It is obvious for me that this is a great honor, to be a part of Brazil history,” a tearful Neymar said in an interview full of squeaky tones and long pauses after Brazil’s victory at the Nilton Santos stadium in Rio de Janeiro. “To be very honest, my dream was to play for Brazil, wear this shirt. I never imagined I would get to these numbers.
“It is very emotional to me because I went through a lot of things over these last two years, difficult and complicated things. These numbers are nothing compared to the happiness I have playing for Brazil.”
Neymar has had several injuries, lost a Champions League final with Paris Saint-Germain in 2020, and had to deal with a sexual assault allegation that was later proved false.
Pelé, who has followed Neymar’s career since the younger man’s first appearances at Santos, published a picture of the pair on Instagram.
“I, like all Brazilians, am always happy when I see him play ball. Today he gave another step toward my record of goals for the Selecao. And I am cheering for him to get there, with the same joy I have since I saw him play for the first time,” 80-year-old Pelé said.
Brazil coach Tite doesn’t want to compare the super star players, but he does say the 29-year-old Neymar is extraordinary.
“He has a really personal thing, he developed his skills to give assists, his right foot, his left foot. He became unpredictable,” Tite said after the 3-0 win against Venezuela last Sunday.
Tite is working on a system to give Neymar space closer to the goal and more protection.
“That’s where the adversaries fear pressing him harder, they could give a foul in an important place,” Tite said. “We structured our team so he can ... (be) more efficient to create.”
Under FIFA’s criteria, Pelé got his record after 92 matches, while Neymar has already played 107.
The Brazilian soccer confederation’s official scoring tally — which includes some non-international games against clubs and differs from the FIFA statistics — puts Neymar 28 goals behind the man who Brazilians call the king of soccer.
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