SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil striker Neymar is only 22 years old, but knows he will be carrying the hopes of the host country at the World Cup. He is already getting goosebumps just thinking about today’s opener against Croatia.
Neymar didn’t hide the fact that he is both anxious and excited to finally get going in the home tournament.
“It’s time,” he said, admitting to goosebumps when he heard coach Luiz Felipe Scolari talk about the team’s debut in Wednesday’s news conference. “The time everybody had been waiting for has arrived.”
Neymar is Brazil’s biggest star and a good performance by the youngster will be key to his team’s hopes of reaching the final at the Maracana Stadium. With the No. 10 shirt made famous by Pele on his back, Neymar is aware of the expectations.
“It’s an honor to be where I am today,” he said. “My friends keep telling me that I’m fulfilling their dreams too, not only mine, by playing in a World Cup here in Brazil. I hope I can play well and help my team the best way I can so we can fulfill the dream of every Brazilian by winning the title.”
Neymar had already attracted most of the attention in Brazil, even before his high-profile transfer to Barcelona last year. With the experience gained by playing alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, the responsibilities have only increased.
He is Brazil’s leading scorer ahead of the World Cup, with 31 goals in 49 matches. Striker Fred is the closest to him with 17 goals in 34 matches.
Neymar said he knows his importance to the team, but tried to downplay any idea that Brazil is just about him.
“I don’t play by myself,” Neymar said. “There are 11 players on the field, and everybody knows their role and what they need to do to try to help our team make it far in the tournament.”
For a long time, Neymar was criticized for his lackluster performances with Brazil. But he proved his worth at last year’s Confederations Cup, winning the warm-up tournament’s Golden Ball award as its best player and scoring a goal in the 3-0 victory over world champion Spain in the final.
Neymar’s latest goal for Brazil came in the warm-up match against Panama last week, when he opened the scoring in the first half with a well-struck free kick.
He said he will have only one goal in mind when the World Cup begins.
“I don’t want to be the best player, I don’t want to be the top scorer,” Neymar said. “All I want is to win the World Cup title. It’s what I always dreamed about. It doesn’t matter how it happens, I just want to win the title.”