Neymar leaves his mark, gives Brazil hope for 2014
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - After a strong showing at the Confederations Cup, Neymar showed Brazilian fans that he has what it takes to lead the national team at the World Cup next year.
The 21-year-old Neymar was voted player of the tournament and was decisive in Brazil's 3-0 victory against Spain in Sunday's final at the Maracana Stadium.
He arrived at the World Cup warm-up tournament after a series of lackluster performances with the national team, but is leaving acclaimed both in Brazil and abroad.
The Confederations Cup marks the coming of age for Neymar, giving him his first title with Brazil's senior team just before he makes his much-anticipated move to European soccer to join Barcelona.
"It turned out to be even better than I expected,'' Neymar said. "I'm really happy to have played well and that the Selecao came out with the title in the end.''
Neymar has been touted as the future of Brazilian soccer for some time, but until now he hadn't been able to replicate his club success with the national team.
That raised doubts about whether he could be considered the player carrying Brazil's hopes for a world title at home next year.
Neymar was among the players loudly booed by more than 50,000 Brazilian fans after a disappointing draw in a friendly with Chile two months ago.
He had been mediocre in the other two competitions he played with Brazil, the 2011 Copa America and the 2012 Olympic tournament.
"I'm really happy with the way things happened,'' Neymar said. "I hope it can continue like that, but I have to take it one tournament at a time.''
Neymar was selected the man of the match in four of the five Confederations Cup matches, including in the final at the Maracana.
He was in the play that led to Brazil's first goal by Fred just two minutes into the match, then scored the second with a powerful left-footed strike from inside the area and set up Fred's last goal without even touching the ball.
He also made the move that led to Gerard Pique's red card in the 68th minute, forcing the defender to commit a foul to stop him from breaking through for what could have been an easy goal.
Neymar had scored remarkable goals in each of the team's first three matches in the warm-up tournament among continental champions, finishing with four in five matches.
But before Neymar is back with Brazil for the World Cup, he will have another challenge in Spain.
Within a couple of weeks, he will be reporting to Barcelona, joining many of the players whom he beat on Sunday.
"It was an honor to play against them,'' Neymar said. "Obviously it's going to be a big change, but it's for the good, I'm joining one of the greatest teams in the world, a team with great players, so I'm happy and I hope to adapt as fast as possible and then play really well in the World Cup next year.''
While Brazilian players were still celebrating after the final whistle, Neymar took the time to go across the field to compliment many of his new Barcelona teammates. He never hid that he had a lot of admiration and respect for the Spaniards.
"I just told them they had a good match,'' he said.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari had said before the final that "Barcelona must be beaming seeing what (Neymar) has been doing here.''
Before traveling to Spain, Neymar will join Lionel Messi for a charity game in Peru on Tuesday, and on Friday he is expected to undergo tonsil surgery.
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