November 24 (Reuters) – Brazil begin their quest for a record-extending sixth World Cup title when they play Serbia in Lusail, Qatar on Thursday, with all eyes on Neymar, who could play in his final final. Here’s a look at the 30-year-old’s World Cup highs and lows:
Neymar burst onto the international stage with a goal on his debut against the United States in 2010 but his career has been a roller coaster as he struggled to live up to high expectations and frustrated with Brazil.
The striker was left out of the squad for South Africa 2010 by coach Dunga, who didn’t believe the then 18-year-old was ready for the big stage despite making a name for himself in the Santos first-team.
MORE HEARTBREAK IN RIO
After becoming a household name following his move to Barcelona, much was expected of Neymar leading Brazil’s attack at the 2014 World Cup on home soil, but the event would end in tears for the talisman player.
Neymar – who scored four goals in five games – fractured his vertebrae in Brazil’s quarter-final win over Colombia and watched as his team-mates suffered a humiliating 7-1 victory over Germany in the semi-finals.
INJURIES AND VIOLATED REPUTATION
Injuries would also deny Neymar the global spectacle in Russia in 2018 – just two years after he delivered Brazil’s first Olympic gold in football with the decisive penalty in a 5-4 penalty shootout win over Germany in Rio de Janeiro.
Neymar suffered a right ankle sprain that affected the fifth metatarsal in his foot and he was never fully fit during the World Cup in Russia as Brazil were knocked out by Belgium in the quarter-finals.
The Paris St Germain striker – the most expensive player in the world after his record €222m ($231m) move from Barcelona in 2017 – has also been left with his reputation in tatters after being mocked for his haircuts, Diving and tears in the tournament.
WHAT IS AT STAKE IN QATAR?
Criticized in the past for his antics on and off the pitch, fans were surprised by a seemingly different Neymar ahead of the World Cup in Qatar thanks to his physical and mental preparation.
He ended his vacation a week early to start training at PSG in the closing season and has had an excellent season so far. He is among the leading players for goals and assists in the five major European leagues.
Neymar can also overtake the great Pele as Brazil’s all-time top scorer if he scores three more goals to add to his 75/121 tally.
Aside from a trophy-rich club career, hosting Brazil’s first World Cup since 2002 will go a long way towards cementing Neymar’s place among football’s modern greats.
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Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris
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