By Andrew Downie
(Reuters) – Neymar scored his 68th goal for Brazil in the 4-0 victory over Peru on Thursday and with it surpassed former Real Madrid and Internazionale striker Ronaldo as Brazil’s second top goalscorer behind Pele.
Neymar reached the 68 goals mark in 107 games after scoring the second in the Copa America clash in Rio de Janeiro.
He is now just nine behind Pele, who scored 77 goals in 92 games.
“It’s obviously a great honour for me to be part of the Brazil team’s history,” a tearful Neymar said.
“To be completely honest, my dream was always to play for Brazil, to wear this shirt. I never imagined I would reach these numbers.”
Goal tallies by Brazilian players are a source of debate among statisticians, with some counting only competitive goals and others including friendlies and unofficial matches.
Even the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) has produced contradictory numbers but after Thursday’s game it said Neymar had surpassed Ronaldo once Ronaldo’s unofficial goals were included.
FIFA said on Twitter that Neymar’s goal put him joint 20th on the list of all-time international scorers but it did not give a tally or say who was above him.
Pele, though, gave his backing to a player who like him began his career at Santos.
“Today, he took another step towards my goalscoring record for the (national team),” Pele wrote on Instagram. “And I’m rooting for him to get there, with the same joy I’ve had since I saw him play for the first time.”
Whatever the specifics of the count, the fact is that Neymar is on a rich run of international form, scoring four in his last four games and seven in his last five.
His superb performances come in spite of his continuing problems off the pitch.
He was accused of rape in May 2019 but later absolved and last month Nike said it had ended its commercial partnership with the player after he refused to cooperate in an investigation into sexual assault allegations levelled against him by a Nike employee.
“For me it’s very emotional, I’ve gone through a lot of things these last two years, difficult and complicated things, and these numbers are nothing compared to the happiness that I get from representing my country and my family,” Neymar said.
“Today we’re going through an unusual time, a very difficult time for the whole world, not just here, and to be an example to anyone, to make anyone happy is a tremendous pleasure.”
(Reporting by Andrew Downie)