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Neymar’s latest early World Cup exit further complicates his Brazil legacy

It was a day of conflicting emotions for Neymar Jr. On the same day that he drew even with the legendary Pelé in Brazil’s all-time scoring list with a beautifully crafted goal, the Seleção fell to Croatia in a penalty-kick shootout in the quarterfinals of the World Cup on Friday. It’s yet another disappointing World Cup for the team that was considered the favorites to win it all this year.

Neymar finally got his World Cup moment, but he will still have regrets about what happened from a team perspective in the quarterfinal. After 105 minutes of 0-0, Neymar collected the ball and combined with two of his teammates to create one of the most stunning goals of the 2022 World Cup so far. That goal gave Brazil (and anyone who saw it) joy and hope that Brazil would make a semifinal appearance.

Of course, Croatia wasn’t going to just roll over, and they scored a late 117th-minute goal to force the game to a penalty kick shootout. We all know what happens when Croatia is in a shootout. All four of their kickers converted to win 4-2, their fourth shootout win in the last two World Cups.

Neymar is now tied with Pelé in career international goals (77) according to FIFA’s official count. In most national team record books, that would be enough to make a player an undisputed legend and a national hero. But Neymar still doesn’t have what Brazilians expect from their star No. 10: a World Cup winner’s medal. Neymar’s three Brazil teams have never even medaled, with their best finish coming when they finished fourth in 2014 at home. They’ve gone out in the quarterfinals each of the last two tournaments and haven’t even made a final since winning their fifth all-time title in 2002.

Does that complicate his legacy?

Despite not (yet) attaining a World Cup as his legendary predecessors had during their playing days, Neymar has earned his spot among the nation’s greats.

In addition to having the same amount of goals as Brazil’s most iconic player, Neymar was a key contributor to bringing a football Olympic gold medal to Brazil. That may not be as significant as winning a World Cup, but it was important enough to the Brazilian FA that they preferred him to be in the Olympic squad instead of the Copa America squad that summer. He scored the deciding penalty kick in the final and got a tattoo to commemorate the win.

Olympics: Football-Men’s Team-Final -GER vs BRA

Eric Seals-USA TODAY Sports

We also don’t know if Neymar will be back with the national team in any capacity. Before the World Cup, he said that this may well be his last. He confirmed as much in an interview after Brazil fell to Croatia.

“I am not closing any doors on the national team but I am also not guaranteeing 100% that I will return,” Neymar said. “I need to think a bit more about this, about what is the right thing for me and for the national team.” (BBC)

You may think Neymar is crazy for considering not returning to the team at 30 years old, especially considering how close he is to becoming the all-time leading Brazilian goalscorer of all time. But he’s been the golden boy of Brazil for over 12 years. He made his national team debut when he was 18 years old and has been the face of the team ever since then. He may be tired of the pressure that comes with that.

If he does decide to stay on with the national team, he will certainly break the goalscoring record. That would be an insane achievement given the caliber and amount of players of that caliber who have played for Brazil. And to do so in his early 30s highlights how long he’s been going at it.

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