Yet another World Cup has ended in tears for Neymar, with football’s most expensive player saying he may not pull on the Brazil shirt again following a heartbreaking defeat to Croatia.
After scoring a stunning solo goal to give Brazil the lead in extra time of their quarterfinal in Doha, the 30-year-old was devastated when Croatia went on to win the match on penalties.
Speaking to reporters, his voice cracking with emotion, he said he could not “100 percent guarantee” he would be seen in the famed yellow shirt again.
Neymar, who has 124 Brazil caps, will be 34 by the time the next World Cup comes around in North America in 2026.
That is still younger than several leading names in Qatar, from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to Luka Modric and Olivier Giroud.
But Brazil’s frail number 10 intimated last year that he may not compete at another World Cup, indicating in one interview that he did not have the mental strength “to put up with any more football”.
Neymar has carried the dreams of a nation into three World Cups since his emergence as a generational talent at Santos.
He’s scored eight goals in the World Cup, but the competition has revealed his frail body and raw emotions.
In the 2014 quarterfinal win over Colombia on home soil, he was injured and had to be stretchered off in agony with a broken back.
Without him Brazil capitulated, losing the semi-final 7-1 against Germany.
His recovery from foot surgery four years ago was the focal point of Brazil’s preparations for the tournament in Russia.
Level with Pele
Even though he made it back in time, Selecao’s success over Costa Rica in that World Cup is often associated with his emotional breakdown.
This time he showed up to Qatar in top physical condition, only to sprain his ankle in Brazil’s first game and miss the following two.
To tie Pele’s record of 77 goals for Brazil, he scored again against South Korea in the round of 16 and then opened the scoring with a spectacular strike against Croatia.
The Brazilian greats Garrincha, Jairzinho, Romario, and Ronaldo, together with “O Rei” (the King) Pele, all won the World Cup, but it doesn’t look like Neymar will ever join that elite company.
“I am not closing any doors on the national team but I am also not guaranteeing 100 percent that I will return,” he stated on Friday.
Neymar also missed Brazil’s 2019 Copa America title due to injury, but his tears have not simply come from a Brazil shirt.
He cried when PSG lost the Champions League final in 2020 against Bayern Munich, and he has displayed similar emotions whenever he has been injured during his club career in Paris.
Although Neymar moved to Paris in 2017 to reunite with Lionel Messi and win the Ballon d’Or, he has yet to accomplish so and currently finds himself playing second fiddle to Kylian Mbappe.
Bright Future for Brazil?
The next Copa America is not until 2024, so even if Neymar does decide to continue playing, Brazil will be starting a new losing cycle after losing to European teams in the last five World Cups (4 out of 5 quarterfinals).
We can only be sad about what has transpired, Neymar said, adding that he did not know what the future held for the Brazil team.
Now that Tite, 61, has announced his retirement as a coach, they will undoubtedly choose a replacement.
Skipper Thiago Silva, aged 38, and the 39-year-old Dani Alves will move on while rising players such as Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo will be asked to play an ever more prominent part.
“We are going to have individuals who have to stand up now, as leaders, but we have so many players who can lead the squad and set an example,” said goalkeeper Alisson Becker, who is eight months younger than Neymar.
“We have young talents who are going to progress, even more, and learn from this World Cup, and we have more seasoned players as well who can still contribute to the national team.
We are in so much agony right now that it’s hard to think about the future, but I have faith that things will turn out well for us.