Although his tournament may be over in his homeland this summer after suffering a sickening tackle from Colombian Juan Camilo Zuniga that saw the 22 year old Barcelona and Brazil front man fracture one of the vertebra in his spine, Neymar has stood out as one of the top players at the Brasil 2014 competition. His four goals and one assist in his debut tournament as he stood head and shoulders above his team-mates in his homeland has led to Neymar-fever amongst the partisan home support as well as him being compared with some of the greats of Brazil throughout history.
For people of a certain age, myself included, the greatest of all Brazil’s strikers was Ronaldo who burst onto the international football scene at France ’98 as he led Brazil to the final of the competition and with Neymar having done the same at Brasil 2014 we compare the impact of these two players in their debut major world football tournaments.
In Front of Goal:
This summer has seen Neymar net four goals in five matches in his homeland as Brazil cruised through Group A, then snuck past Chile in the last 16 stage and edged out Colombia in the Quarter Finals before his tournament came to an end. His goals came in spurts as he scored twice against Croatia in the opening match of the competition and then added his third and fourth goals against Cameroon to secure passage to the knockout stages. While he did not score in either of the knockout stage games Neymar did create goals in both matches against Chile and Colombia to make him an invaluable part of the Brazilian front line.
Ronaldo’s goalscoring record in France 16 years ago was matched by the heir to his crown in their homeland this summer as the then 21 year old netted four goals and created three in seven matches. He bagged a goal against Morocco in the group stage before scoring twice in the 4-1 win over Chile in the last 16 stage as well as Brazil’s only goal in the 1-1 draw against the Netherlands in the semi finals. He stepped up and converted the first penalty in the shootout too. However, unlike Neymar this summer, Ronaldo was not the only player contributing goals to the side as Bebeto, who can be seen double bluffing his former team-mate and now PokerStars ambassador who has been promoting the new mobile app in his homeland in the build up to this tournament, César Sampaio and Rivaldo all added three goals to the tally too.
Main Talking Point:
Apart from the fact that both of these players have lit up their debut tournaments with goals and exceptional performances, especially Ronaldo who won the Golden Ball as best player at the tournament, the main talking point about both players is their injury issues.
FIFA opened an investigation into the challenge that saw Neymar stretchered off the field with a fractured spine while Ronaldo is the more controversial of the two. The former Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan and Inter Milan striker was dropped from the team for final in France in 1998 after having a seizure, yet he made a recovery that allowed him to play despite being nowhere fit enough to do so. As a result of this, France defeated a subdued Brazilian side 3-0 in the final to claim their first ever trophy.
The seizure that Ronaldo had prior to the France 98 final did not affect him overall and despite having some injury problems leading up to the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea Ronaldo put in an even better performance than in his debut. He netted eight goals in that competition and scored in each round of the tournament, apart from the Quarter Finals against England, including bagging both goals in the final against Germany as Brazil lifted their fifth title and Ronaldo claimed the Golden Boot as top scorer.
With Neymar, who knows what will happen in the future as he is just 22 years old and has his entire career ahead of him. Once he recovers from the injury that Ronaldo, the man who has the record of 15 goals scored at these FIFA showcase competitions, stated was a “violent and unlawful” tackle the world is his oyster and as Ronaldo showed in 2002 an career threatening injury will not prevent a player from breaking numerous records if you show the passion and desire that the 37 year old has had on display – including playing a recent game of tennis with his feet – when you have the ability to back that up.
These are all things that Neymar has plenty of and I can see the youngster matching, or even beating, the achievements of the Brazil great in years to come.