Raisa Simplicio & Rupert Fryer
On Friday Neymar’s Brazil career will come full circle as he leads Brazil out at MetLfie Stadium against USA.
The same stadium, the same opponent, this is exactly where Neymar’s Brazil story began eight years ago.
Following Brazil’s quarter-final defeat to the Netherlands at World Cup 2010, coach Mano Menezes began a new era for the Selecao by taking a young squad to New Jersey, led by then boy-wonder Neymar Jr of Santos.
Brazil returned to MetLife on Thursday for a final training session ahead of Friday’s Brasil Global Tour clash with USA and what was another memorable day for the PSG man.
Two years after leaving the role, Neymar was announced on Thursday as Brazil’s new permanent captain, capping a week that has seen the 26-year-old in particularly good spirits.
This month is an important for one Neymar, who has fronted up to the criticism he received for his perceived histrionics after being repeatedly fouled at World Cup 2018.
And he’ll welcome the happy memories of what was a memorable night in this city in 2010, as he capped his Selecao bow with a goal, which he could celebrate with his boyhood hero Robinho as Brazil ran out 2-0 winners.
It was the highlight of a much-anticipated debut for the 18-year-old, who many back home had wanted Dunga to take to South Africa for the World Cup. Mauro Naves, a respected journalist at Rede Globo, was at MetLife that day and remembers fondly the impressive debut of a future great.
"It was only the beginning of what we already knew he would achieve even since he first appeared at Santos,” Naves told Brasil Global Tour in New Jersey.
“I was covering football in Sao Paulo and I had several opportunities to see him before he arrived in the Selecao and there was no way it was going to go wrong. It was a promising debut and we were filled with expectation, confident that he would have four years to mature before arriving at World Cup 2014 firing on all cylinders.
"It was a long-awaited moment, we thought that Dunga could have taken him to South Africa Cup, both Neymar and midfielder Ganso, but Dunga felt they were too young.
Mano Menezes brought them both in at the first opportunity following the World Cup and Neymar instantly looked at ease, as if he had playing for Brazil for some time already.”
Since that night, Neymar has made history for the Selecao, but also endured some ups and downs, seemingly earning high praise or strong criticism, with little in between. Now a veteran of two World Cups, Qatar 2022 could see Neymar return to the world stage at the top of his game.
Naves has been impressed with the cool head Neymar has shown this week on the Brasil Global Tour and believes he could well go on to break Pele’s all-time scoring record.
"I do not know if Neymar sees this a new start, but we see that this is a new cycle for the group and that many are also getting their first opportunities. For those who were at the last World Cup, they have another chance,” Naves said.
"I see Neymar looking relaxed and it will be interesting to see if he can play well, quite the circus a little, but he looks calm. He usually plays well for the national team and has the numbers to back it up – he has the chance to take over the others in list of top scorers.”
And now Naves, Tite and all of Brazil hope MetLife will witness the start of more successful Brazil careers, with a number of new arrivals hoping to make debuts of their own on Friday.
After Neymar, it was time for MetLife Stadium to possibly watch the debut of other young Brazilian promises, for Mauro Naves, this time, the expectation is over the midfield with Arthur, Paquetá and Andreas Pereira calling the attention.
“We are really looking forward to seeing the midfield,” added Naves. “It's a good thing that Everton is doing well Gremio, and there’s Richarlison, but I'm curious to see Andreas Pereira, Arthur and Lucas Paqueta, though I don’t know if you can play all three at once.
“I think that Tite will look at one or two, maybe they will see more minutes against El Salvador. I think Arthur will soon arrive for Brazil and stay with them for a very long time. Andreas is a player we don’t see that much and Lucas Paqueta is very versatile. They are three newcomers I want to see.”
Brazil meet USA at MetLife Stadium on Friday before hosting El Salvador at FedEx Field in Landover on Tuesday.