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More goals than Ronaldo but Neymar is no Brazil legend yet

17:00 BST 14/10/2020
Neymar Ronaldo Brazil GFX
The PSG star surpassed O Fenemeno on Tuesday but the 28-year-old will not be remembered as a better forward unless he delivers in a World Cup

It is official: now only Pele stands between Neymar and a place in Brazil's record books.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward stepped up with two penalties and a late tap-in to down Peru in a gripping World Cup qualifier on Thursday, as the Selecao twice came back from behind to prevail 4-2 in Lima.

Tite's charges, thus, start their journey towards Qatar 2022 with a perfect six points from six, and their star forward now occupies a privileged position in Brazil history.

His hat-trick saw him usurp Ronaldo as the Selecao's second-highest scorer, with an incredible tally of 64 goals in just 103 games since making his debut in 2010.

Such a feat should not be belittled.

Neymar is the finest Brazilian of his generation, and one of the most talented players ever to come from a country whose football pedigree is the equal of any nation on the planet.

Coach Tite certainly had no hesitation in placing his star among the very best after seeing him pull his side out of a jam on Tuesday.

“Every generation has its own values. Ronaldo was extraordinary, Rivaldo was extraordinary, Romario and Bebeto too, each one in his own time,” he told reporters.

“It is unfair to make comparisons. All I can say is that Neymar is very unpredictable. He's a player that not only gives you assists but also goals, and with an ever larger level of maturity.”

Does Neymar deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as those superstars, though?

In terms of pure numbers, the 28-year-old has already passed them, and in record time – aided by the sheer quantity of matches played in modern football and the second-tier opposition Brazil have faced in their friendlies over the years.

Barring a catastrophe, he will soon surpass Pele's tally of 77 and become top scorer outright. But he lacks something all of the above boast: real, tangible success at international level.

O Rei, of course, and his four World Cup titles are an almost impossible example to follow. But few would argue that Neymar's achievements with Brazil can match up to a Ronaldo, or even a Romario, Rivaldo or Ronaldinho.

All are world champions, while the current standard-bearer has never even got close to lifting the trophy.

Both of his attempts at bringing Brazil their much-coveted sixth World Cup have ended at the quarter-final stage.

In 2014, injury ruled him out for the most humiliating episode in the nation's football history – a 7-1 semi-final loss to Germany. Four years later, Brazil bombed against Belgium, losing 2-1 despite dominating play.

In the Copa America, it has been a similar story. South America's continental trophy during the 2000s became regarded almost as a formality for the Selecao, who achieved back-to-back successes despite fielding near-reserve teams.

However, in the two editions he has played – the forward missed 2016's Centenary failure due to his Olympic commitments – Neymar has also never made it further than the last eight.

When Tite's men finally ended that run of disappointments last year, it was with their star as a spectator, his absence making little difference during their successful run to the title.

Neymar was part of a Confederations Cup triumph in 2013, and he has a gold medal to show for his efforts in Rio three years later, but it's a poor return when placed up against the likes of Ronaldo, who fired his nation to consecutive World Cup finals, and victory in 2002.

Neymar doesn't even enjoy the same standing as Zico or Socrates. Neither man lifted the game's most prestigious prize but they wowed the world with their skills, most memorably at Spain '82, but they were symbols of a Selecao that holds almost mythical status in Brazil.

In one sense Neymar, has become a victim of his own success.

So accustomed are we to seeing him hit two or three goals a game, that when he falls short of that mark, especially in crucial encounters, he is an easy target for the critics – especially when his explosive temper flares up or the infuriating play-acting begins.

“It has become difficult for him because of all those things he does besides playing football,” Pele admitted to Folha in 2018 following the Selecao's failure in Russia.

“He was unlucky because the team didn't win the cup and he was singled out. I was with him twice in Europe, we chatted and I explained it to him like this: 'God has given you the gift of football. The problem is that you have made life hard for yourself.'”

Time remains on Neymar's side, though. Fitness permitting, he could feature in at least two more World Cups before he hangs up his boots.

It is equally true that no man wins the famous trophy single-handed: he will need the support of a strong Brazil team around him, and this current crop of players appears as talented as any Neymar has featured in since first entering the international arena.

For now, though, the PSG ace boasts 64 goals but precious few performances that will live on in the memory of his fans back home.

He may soon pass even Pele and make history but his legacy will be determined by how he fares at Qatar.

The World Cup remains true test of any player aiming for immortality in Brazil.