Brazilian picks World Cup favourites and tips Salah to shine.
Neymar Jr has sent a warning to Brazil’s rivals by revealing he is a better player heading into the 2018 FIFA World Cup than he was four years ago.
The Paris Saint-Germain striker has been a revelation for the French giants since his world record summer switch from Barcelona and is now aiming to fire Brazil to a record sixth title when the tournament gets underway in Russia on June 14.
In 2014 on home soil Neymar Jr helped the hosts overcome Chile and Colombia before a devastating injury prevented him taking the field in the 7-1 semi-final defeat by eventual winners Germany.
His four goals in the tournament still saw him finish third in the Golden Boot but with 53 goals now to his name, hot on the heels of Pele’s national record of 77, he believes he can make his mark once again.
He said: “The difference is hard to explain, but I think I’m more experienced, more wise, more ‘cascudo’ (an expression meaning ‘tougher’), as we say in Brazil.
“This is because I had many experiences, I participated in a World Cup where we lost and I think I’ll be more prepared for the next one, because I know what it is like to be in a World Cup, I can be better prepared.
“So the Neymar in 2018 is better than the Neymar in 2014.”
Brazil head to Russia as one of the tournament favourites, but must first overcome Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia in Group E.
As for other favourites beyond the normal suspects, the 25-year-old picked out Roberto Martínez’s Belgium as ones to watch, as well as Liverpool star Mohamed Salah of Egypt.
“I think the best-known teams are the favourites, as always. Among them are Brazil, Germany, France, Spain, Argentina,” said Neymar Jr.
“These teams will be the highlights in any championship. And for the surprise, I think Belgium has an excellent team and can be a surprise in this Cup.
“Salah (from Egypt) is also a great player who can make a difference in the World Cup.
“There is no easy selection to play so I think every game will be very difficult, that’s why it’s called the World Cup, right? The best selections in the world and every game is hard.”
There is a good chance his friend Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City will partner him up front, the two of them combining brilliantly at the Neymar Jr’s Five World Final in July when national champions from 53 countries across six continents battled it out at the Instituto Projeto Neymar Jr in Praia Grande, Brazil.
In terms of his club form, PSG are already dominating the French Ligue 1 table and have reached the last 16 of the Champions League on the back of a record group stage goals tally. The transition, it seems, has been a seamless one.
He explained: “The adaptation to the French League was quick because the European style is very similar everywhere, so there is not much difference between the leagues.
“I think the Brazilian players in Paris helped me a lot here, all the guys from our team (in general), the Spaniards, they have all helped me in the adaptation and it is getting easier for me.
“No parlez Français”. I try to talk because I’m shameless, so I’m learning. I understand a lot of what people say, but I don’t speak the language yet.”