SALVADOR DE BAHIA, Brazil: Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari forecast Barcelona would get their money’s worth from Neymar after the 57-million-euro ($76.2 million) starlet again showed his mercurial talent in the win over Italy.
The 21-year-old scored his third goal in as many Confederations Cup group matches – a thumping freekick – as the Selecao saw off the four-time world champions 4-2 to win Group A with a perfect record.
Defeat would have seen the Brazilians heading for a likely encounter with world champions Spain – but that pairing could now provide a final representing a mouthwatering clash of styles pitting Spain’s renowned collective against Brazilian individualism.
After coming into the tournament on the back of a nine-match goalscoring drought, Neymar has hit top form and Scolari is relishing the sight of the forward in full flow – as well as his six-shooter goal celebrations.
The Brazilian coach, mastermind of his country’s fifth World Cup win in 2002 and now looking to oversee a ‘Hexacampeao’ on home soil next year, was effusive in his praise, having earlier in the tournament issued none too subtle public messages reminding Neymar to be a team player.
“He dealt well with the European marking and Barcelona must be very happy as he is putting a good run of matches together. Neymar is a quality player and we knew he had those qualities – but he can still progress.
“He is an idol for all Brazilians, those who love football. You can call a genius someone who makes a difference and understands what is going on during a match. He was doing that before when he was not scoring but was making chances for his teammates and in so doing he was a team player.
Neymar himself was circumspect when asked if Brazil were now finding the kind of form which could lead them to believe they can win not just this tournament but the World Cup.
“I think we are ready for the semi-finals here, but I don’t say we are ready for the World Cup as yet. We have many tactical qualities,” said the spiky-haired star.
Neymar gave much of the credit for that to Scolari.
“He is a great man, a great coach. I am very proud to work with him and the professor (assistant Carlos Alberto) Parreira as well.
Neymar went off midway through the second half with Bernard given a chance to show his mettle for the hosts and Scolari said he wanted to ensure that the starlet did not react to the fouls perpetrated on him and risk a booking.
One man who did stay on was Fred, who plundered two goals after Neymar’s departure.
“I told Fred he would be staying on unless he lost a leg,” remarked the laconic Scolari.
“The two goals are important for him and for me.”
Looking ahead to a probable semi-final with Uruguay in Belo Horizonte – the team that dealt Brazil a bitter home loss in the 1950 World Cup final – Scolari said: “Uruguay are coming to the boil, they have been put together well by (coach Oscar) Tabarez and have a style which is tough to play against.”