Brazil coach Rogerio Micale rallied round under-fire captain Neymar on Tuesday after two goalless draws left the Olympic hosts perilously close to another humiliating exit on home soil.
Micale’s men need to beat Group A leaders Denmark in Salvador on Wednesday to guarantee their place in the quarter-finals, after being booed off in consecutive stalemates against South Africa and Iraq.
Amazingly, Brazil’s fate could even come down to the drawing of lots with Iraq, who play South Africa, if both final group matches end in a draw by the same scoreline.
Barcelona’s Neymar has attracted fierce criticism, with his lacklustre and petulant displays being compared with Marta, the Brazilian women’s five-time World Player of the Year, who has dazzled in leading the hosts into the quarter-finals with a game to spare.
However, Micale highlighted the seven-year age gap between the two for Marta’s greater maturity, and insisted Neymar will eventually depose Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to become the world’s best player.
“We can say that Marta is a sensational player, (she) has all our recognition, but Neymar has my recognition as the future best player in the world,” said Micale.
“We need to respect Neymar. He’s young. I know that at times he acts in a way we do not want, but at his age, would we not do the same things he does?”
‘A belly or a bum’
Neymar’s refusal to address the media after the Iraq debacle provoked renewed doubts over his suitability to captain the national team.
The 24-year-old missed Brazil’s final two Games at last year’s Copa America after being sent off in just his second competitive match as captain against Colombia.
But Micale said Brazil need to reflect on the state of the national game rather debating whether to strip Neymar of the captaincy.
The five-time world champions are still searching for the way forward after the humiliating 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat to Germany on home soil two years ago.