True to their past, Brazil are a formidable side once again. Following the disappointment of the last FIFA World Cup™ and the ensuing aftermath, the national team went back to their roots and rebuilt their reputation with a swashbuckling campaign to qualify for Russia 2018.
Neymar has been one of the pillars of that renaissance. Arguably in the best form of his career right now, the No10 is the team’s leader both on and off the pitch. At the next World Cup he is relishing the prospect of expanding on the promise he showed at the previous edition, before injury ended his tournament prematurely.
Ahead of the Final Draw in Moscow, Russia on Friday, Neymar spoke to FIFA.com about the Brazilian national team, regaining the respect they had lost, the role luck plays in winning the World Cup and the extent to which the traumatic experience at the last finals influenced the player he has become.
FIFA.com: Looking ahead to the Draw for Russia 2018, is there any team Brazil would like to avoid?
Neymar: No. Brazil are ready to face anyone. We train so that we’re not afraid of anyone we might go up against. It’s a World Cup, so the best teams are there. They’re well-prepared sides with tremendous quality. You can’t pick one team over another, thinking that they’ll be weaker. You just have to be ready when you go to a World Cup.
How do you follow events like the Final Draw?
Obviously you can’t wait to find out who you’re going to play against. But I don’t think it matters too much. It’s one of those occasions where you put the popcorn in the microwave and call your family and friends together to watch it on television (laughs).
You say that the outcome of the Draw does not matter so much, but how much luck is involved for a team to win the World Cup?
Luck? Very little. I don’t think luck itself can help a team win it. I think the eventual champions are the ones that put in the hard work a long time beforehand, and are ready to face anyone in their group or in the knockout rounds.
Brazil seem to have regained the respect they lost in the wake of the 2014 World Cup. Do you agree?
Yes, I do. The respect towards the team now is different to what it was three or four years ago after the World Cup. People see us differently. The Brazil that everyone respects and admires is back; a team that enjoys good football. And that makes us happy. The mood of our fans and our country has changed. Everyone’s confident and happy looking ahead to the World Cup. You can’t put a price on that.
What role will Russia 2018 have on your career, after the abrupt way your tournament ended in 2014?
(Pauses to think) It’s strange because I didn’t finish that World Cup the way I wanted to. Obviously I wanted to crown it with the title, but I neither won nor lost. I didn’t finish the World Cup. My tournament ended with a serious injury and, unfortunately, I had to pay for that.
What are your memories of that time?
That was a really bad week for me. I cried a lot and asked myself many times why it had happened. But eventually you understand that everything that happens in life makes you stronger, even if it’s not something you want at that particular time. It helps you to learn and prepare yourself better in the future. I think this World Cup is going to be huge for Brazilians. Personally, I’m going give everything I’ve got to win it.
In addition to being a goalscorer, you are providing increasing numbers of assists. Which of the two do you prefer?
Both of them make me very happy. I like it when things go well for my team, whether that’s with Paris Saint-Germain or Brazil. While the objective is always to score, giving a pass to a team-mate to find the net also makes me happy. Both give you a similar feeling, it’s practically the same.
Is that something players are born with? Or is it learned?
It’s something you should learn as a child. You shouldn’t be big-headed and only think about yourself because at the end of the day football is a team game. The desire to help and to set up your team-mates to score is something that’s instilled in you as a child. There are obviously times when I finish off moves, that’s one of my traits, but I’m also happy giving passes and assists. It’s always been that way.
Finally, can you finish off this sentence? In 2018, Neymar will…
(Laughs) In 2018 Neymar will be very happy at the World Cup.