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Brazilian star Neymar to face Egypt in Olympics opener

Neymar says there is nothing he would rather do than spend time on the football field

AP, Wednesday 23 May 2012
Santos' Neymar gestures during the Sao Paulo league soccer final match against Guarani in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, May 13, 2012. (Photo: AP)

Neymar's motivation to become one of Brazil's greatest players, the one expected to lead the team to its first Olympic gold medal, is no secret.

The young man with the scoring touch says it out loud for everyone to hear: It's a love affair. A love affair with football. A love affair with the ball.

"My dad always taught me that you need to have a special relationship with the ball. He told me that the ball is like the most jealous woman that has ever existed. If you don't treat her well, if you don't give her love, she will hurt you. You have to treat her well for her to help you," the 20-year-old Neymar said. "And I really love her."

Neymar says there is nothing he would rather do than spend time on the football field.

"When I'm playing, it's an incredible joy. It's what I love, it's what I like doing," he said. "That's why I always tweet before matches that I'm about to go do what I like doing the most."

With former stars Ronaldinho and Kaka past their prime, Neymar has become the player carrying Brazil's hopes for success in London at the Olympics and then at the World Cup at home.

He is seen as the future of Brazilian football, and the Olympics will give him a chance to prove that he can be the decisive player the entire country expects him to be.

"I've already told federation president (Jose Maria Marin) that I'll bring the gold back to Brazil," Neymar said.

The Olympic tournament is the only significant football competition Brazil has yet to win. The five-time World Cup champions won Olympic silver in 1984 and 1988, and bronze in 1996 and 2008.

"You have a chance to make history," FIFA President Sepp Blatter told Neymar on Twitter after the Olympic draw last month, earning a quick response from the joyful youngster.

"I've got it, prez," Neymar wrote.

Brazil will open against Egypt on July 26, and it will also play Belarus and New Zealand in Group C.

"I don't know a lot about our opponents, but we have to respect all of them because they all made it to the Olympics," Neymar said. "Hopefully we will be able to play well and advance."

Brazilians have their own love affair with Neymar, and the hype about the youngster has reached unprecedented levels in the South American nation.

Many say he has the potential to become the country's greatest player since Pele, who also starred for Brazilian club Santos. Pele himself is a fan, saying that he thinks Neymar will be better than Lionel Messi and "for sure" will be crowned the best player in the world in a few years.

"I'm obviously happy to be praised by someone like Pele," Neymar said. "But to me Messi is the best player in the world. There is also Cristiano Ronaldo and a few other names ahead of me right now."

Neymar was in the list of 23 players running for FIFA's Ballon d'Or player of the year award last year, and won FIFA's prize for the most beautiful goal in 2011.

"Without a doubt he is the greatest name in Brazilian football," former Brazil striker Romario said. "Neymar will be one of the stars of these Olympics Games."

Always smiling and sporting a Mohawk hairdo imitated by kids across the country, Neymar has become an idol on the field and a celebrity off of it. Everywhere you look and everywhere you go in Brazil there appears to be some sort of reference to him.

It might be in one of the dozens of television commercials or billboards by sponsors that make Neymar the best paid athlete in Brazil. Or in a television show talking about the new yacht he has just bought, or the YouTube clip showing him dancing around women in bikinis with a popular local music star.

On the field, Neymar is certainly making a case for himself with remarkable, record-setting performances.

Since he made his professional debut in 2009, he has led Santos to its greatest run since Pele stopped playing in the 1970s.

Neymar has helped the club win the 2010 Brazilian Cup, the 2011 Copa Libertadores and three straight Sao Paulo state championships. Santos made the final of the traditional Sao Paulo tournament four straight times, winning three in a row for the first time since the late 1960s.

With 108 goals, Neymar has already become Santos' leading scorer since the post-Pele era, and the 16th all-time.

"It's great to be able to be repeating the feats of great players like Pele," Neymar said. "I didn't expect these things to be happening to me so fast."

This year alone, Neymar has scored 27 goals in 25 matches, including four hat tricks.

"This has been the greatest year of my life," Neymar said after Santos routed Bolivar 8-0 in round-of-16 of the Copa Libertadores on May 10. "I'm incredibly happy to be playing in a team like this. I'm proud to be making history with this club."

Many Brazilian fans and local media wanted Neymar to be included in the squad for the 2010 World Cup, but his debut in the senior team came in Brazil's 2-0 win over the United States in a friendly match later that year, a game in which he scored. He has been summoned virtually every time since then and has scored eight goals in 16 matches with Brazil.

He was a starter when Brazil was eliminated by Paraguay in the quarterfinals of the Copa America in 2011, the first official competition in which he got a chance to play.

A lot more will be expected from him in his second significant competition, in London. Brazilian fans are hoping he will live up to all the hype, adding a sparkle to their affair with the youngster.

A gift in gold should do the job.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter: @AO Sports)


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