Neymar ready to bring gold medal to 'land of football' Brazil at Rio Olympics
Neymar has said he is ready to lead his team to gold at the Olympics in Rio.
Brazil captain Neymar said it's rare for a "land of football" like his to have never won gold in the Olympics, while adding he isn't daunted by the responsibility that comes with leading his team.
Neymar, 24, did not take part in the Copa America Centenario in the United States in favour of trying to help Brazil win the country's first-ever gold medal in football at the Olympics.
The timing for the historic first has added significance as Brazil are hosting the games in Rio.
"It's a unique opportunity," Neymar told Brazilian television. "Not only for me, but for everyone on the team. We know how important this medal is.
"I know that this gold medal has eluded Brazil so far, and we will do everything to try to win it. It's rare that a country like Brazil, considered the land of football, still hasn't won this gold."
It will be the second time Neymar will play for Brazil at the Olympics. He led the team that lost the 2012 final to Mexico in London, where the Brazilians were the heavy favourites. Brazil was runner-up twice before, in 1984 and 1988. They also won the bronze in 1996 and 2008, the last time with a squad that featured Ronaldinho and future stars like Marcelo and Thiago Silva.
"Neymar is special, one of the best players in the world," said Rogerio Micale, who replaced the sacked Dunga as coach of the Olympic team. "Any team can benefit from a player like him. He will mean a lot to us. I think that he will be able to lead the youngsters in the squad."
Neymar will be one of the three over-23 players each nation is allowed to add to their roster. The other two are 38-year-old Palmeiras goalkeeper Fernando Prass and 28-year-old Beijing Guoan midfielder Renato Augusto, who have far less international experience than Neymar.
There is also extra pressure on the Selecao captain after Dunga was fired for the second time from the national team following a disastrous Copa America that saw the team fail to advance from the group stages.
Without the experienced coach by his side, Neymar will carry the fate of the team, and the striker can become a national hero if he wins the gold, or join a long list of stars -- Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, among others -- who have failed in the pursuit of the gold.
"I never run away from the responsibility. I'm used to it," Neymar said. "We have another great opportunity to win an Olympic medal, and hopefully this time it will be the gold."
Neymar also had a prominent role at the World Cup in Brazil two years ago, when he played up to expectations until breaking a bone in his back in the quarterfinals against Colombia and missing the rest of the tournament.
Brazil eventually was eliminated after an embarrassing 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals.
"I don't compare tournaments. I just like winning every tournament that I play," Neymar said. "All of them are important for me. Each has its own history, its own characteristic, but they are all important."
Brazil had a favourable draw and will face South Africa, Iraq and Denmark in Group A, making their debut Aug. 4 against South Africa in Brasilia. In the quarterfinals, the hosts could face Colombia or Nigeria, two youth powerhouses.
The final will be played Aug. 20 at Maracana Stadium in Rio.