A day after arriving in Japan for the Club World Cup, the 19-year-old Brazil striker quickly sought to defuse any friction between Santos and tournament favourites Barca.
“I haven’t come here to prove anything to anyone,” Neymar, who with his spiky mohican and ear piercings could not look more different than the clean-cut Messi.
“I’ve always said Messi is the best player in the world,” added Neymar, who has calmed down this year following run-ins with team mates and an infamous Twitter rant telling a referee he would “leave in a coffin.”
“Stopping (Messi) playing is very difficult but we’re looking at ways to slow him down,” Neymar told reporters in Nagoya on Friday.
Neymar was strongly linked with several European clubs including Barca and Real Madrid before agreeing to stay at Santos until 2014 after helping them win the Libertadores Cup in June.
Santos were last crowned kings of South American almost 50 years ago when Pele inspired them to the title in 1962 and 1963 with Neymar instrumental in bringing back the glory days.
“Pele was a legend—one of a kind,” said Neymar, having also been compared to the three-times World Cup winner by Pele himself. “I’ll never be like him.”
Barring the almost unthinkable, Santos will face Barcelona in a mouth-watering Club World Cup final in Yokohama on Dec. 18.
WHATEVER IT TAKES
Santos must beat either Mexico’s Monterrey or J-League champions Kashiwa Reysol in their semi-final before Barca face Qatar’s Al Sadd or Esperance of Tunisia.
Messi and Neymar looking to outshine each other in front of 70,000 people in Yokohama would provide an electrifying sub-plot to the game.
“It’s been a long time since we won the Libertadores Cup,” Neymar told reporters. “But we’ve been working towards the Club World Cup from the second half of our season.”
In contrast, Barcelona fly out to the Far East after a potentially rough-and-tumble ‘Clasico’ showdown away to bitter rivals Real Madrid at the weekend.
Santos will be fresher and have had more time to adjust to criss-crossing of so many time zones, although the absence through injury of defensive midfielder Adriano is a big loss.
Neymar acknowledged Adriano would be “sorely missed” but showed no lack of confidence about the team’s chances of lifting the trophy.
“I don’t have a special approach to the game,” said the Brazilian league’s Player of the Year. “I will do whatever it takes for us to win, and so will everyone else on the team.
“If I get a bit of space it would be nice because I get fouled a lot. It will be difficult but I want to leave my mark with the club and to be part of its history.”
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