An injury robbed Neymar of a chance to help Brazil win its home World Cup. Almost a year later, the youngster is back with another opportunity to show he can lead the national team to a title.
Neymar will be carrying Brazil’s hopes in this month’s Copa America in Chile, just as he did before a back injury put an end to his World Cup last year.
The Barcelona star could only watch as Brazil collapsed in the semifinals against Germany, losing 7-1 in front of shocked fans at the Mineirao Stadium. Because of the injury, Neymar also didn’t play in the 3-0 loss to the Netherlands in the third-place match, a disappointing finish for the host.
The Copa America marks Brazil’s first official competition since the World Cup.
Neymar will be arriving in Chile healthy again, and boosted by the Champions League title won with Barcelona last Saturday.
“I’m thrilled to be able to wear the national team’s jersey again in a tournament,” the 23-year-old Neymar said after being called up for the South American competition that begins on Thursday.
The tournament will also mark Neymar’s reunion with the player who shattered his World Cup dreams. Defender Juan Camilo Zuniga, who fractured one of Neymar’s vertebrae with a knee to his back, is in the Colombia squad that will face Brazil in the group stage.
The two also played against each other last year in a friendly in the United States, when Neymar said there were no hard feelings toward the Colombia defender.
Neymar left the World Cup with his image mostly untarnished by Brazil’s disastrous loss to Germany in Belo Horizonte. Despite being only 22, Neymar was the national team’s leader and played well until the injury, scoring four goals in five matches.
Neymar has continued playing well since then. He remains the team’s top star and has joined the list of Brazil’s greatest scorers all-time with 43 goals, behind only the likes of Pele, Ronaldo, Romario and Zico.
Neymar will be Brazil’s captain in the Copa America.
“We expect Neymar to perform as well as he has been performing with the national team and with Barcelona,” Brazil coach Dunga said. “After we made him the captain, we expected him to behave a certain way and he did.”
Dunga said Neymar is even better after spending more another year at Barcelona, where he thrived alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
“His performance has improved,” Dunga said. “He has matured and has become more capable of overcoming challenges. He has met our expectations. I hope he continues to be seen as our reference.”
Because of the Champions League, Neymar only reported to Brazil’s national team on Monday, about a week after the rest of the squad. He missed the team’s warmup against Mexico on Sunday, and played only the second half in the warmup against Honduras on Wednesday. Brazil beat Mexico 2-0 and Honduras 1-0.
Brazil opens the Copa America against Peru on Sunday, then plays Colombia on June 17 and Venezuela on June 21 to close out the group stage.
Brazil has won four of the last six Copa Americas. Its last title was in 2007 in Venezuela, when Dunga was also the coach.