SAO PAULO (AP) — Neymar might not win three World Cups in his career like Pelé did, but he is closing in as top goal scorer ever for Brazil’s national team.
He reduced the gap to nine after his Brazil’s 4-0 win over Peru on Thursday in the Copa America.
Figures by FIFA, soccer’s international governing body FIFA, put Pelé in No. 1 spot for Brazil with 77 goals. Neymar has 68 after he netted the Seleção’s second against Peru.
“It is obvious for me that this is a great honor, to be a part of Brazil history,” a tearful Neymar said in an interview full of squeaky tones and long pauses after Brazil’s victory at the Nilton Santos stadium in Rio de Janeiro. “To be very honest, my dream was to play for Brazil, wear this shirt. I never imagined I would get to these numbers.
“It is very emotional to me because I went through a lot of things over these last two years, difficult and complicated things. These numbers are nothing compared to the happiness I have playing for Brazil.”
Neymar has had several injuries, lost a Champions League final with Paris Saint-Germain in 2020, and had to deal with a sexual assault allegation that was later proved false.
Brazil coach Tite doesn’t want to compare Neymar and Pelé, but he does say the 29-year-old forward is extraordinary.
“He has a really personal thing, he developed his skills to give assists, his right foot, his left foot. He became unpredictable,” Tite said after the 3-0 win against Venezuela last Sunday.
Tite is working on a system to give Neymar space closer to the goal and more protection.
“That’s where the adversaries fear pressing him harder, they could give a foul in an important place,” Tite said. “We structured our team so he can … (be) more efficient to create.”
Under FIFA’s criteria, Pelé got his record after 92 matches, while Neymar has already played 107.
The Brazilian soccer confederation’s official scoring tally — which includes some non-international games against clubs — puts Neymar 28 goals behind the man who Brazilians call the king of soccer.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports