Neymar weeps in emotional last match with Santos
Associated Press in Sao Paulo
Neymar couldn’t hold back the tears in his last match with Santos before joining Barcelona.
Neymar cried profusely as the Brazilian national anthem was sung before the match against Flamengo on Sunday in the first round of the Brazilian league.
“It was very emotional,” said Neymar as he bid farewell to his team and Brazilian football. “The movie of my life since I was a little kid came to my mind at that moment.”
Neymar announced his move to Barcelona late on Saturday, a day after Santos accepted offers from the Spanish powerhouse and its rival Real Madrid and that it was up to the 21-year-old Brazilian striker to decide where he wanted to play.
He is set to sign a five-year contract with Barcelona on Monday, becoming the latest addition to a star-filled squad that already includes four-time FIFA Player of the Year Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.
“It’s a dream come true to be able to play for a team like Barcelona. I’ve always dreamed about doing that and now it’s happening,” Neymar said. “It will be a great honour to play with players like Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Dani Alves.”
The striker said he played on Sunday to be able to wear Santos’ jersey at least one more time and to hear the fans chant his name again. But when he was introduced, he was booed by the Flamengo fans that dominated the crowd at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia.
During the national anthem the striker couldn’t hide his emotions. He started crying as he stood alongside his teammates, closing his eyes and dropping his head down. He said he also cried a lot at the team’s hotel before heading to the stadium and in the changing room as well.
“It’s not easy for him, but we tried to help him as much as possible,” Santos defender Leo said.
Neymar didn’t play particularly well in his last Santos match, though, struggling in the 0-0 draw.
He had a few chances in the first half, the most significant one a missed shot from outside the area in the 16th minute. He almost scored with a well-placed free kick in the 69th, but goalkeeper Felipe made the stop before the ball reached the upper corner.
More than 60,000 people attended the farewell match, which also served as the final test event at the venue ahead of the Confederations Cup. It will host the opener of the warm-up tournament on June 15, when Neymar will be back when Brazil faces Japan. He is only expected to join Barcelona after the World Cup warm-up tournament.
Neymar is leaving Santos a year before the end of his contract, which was intended to keep him in the club until the next year World Cup.
He began playing for Santos as a kid and quickly became its biggest star since Pele left the club in the 1970s. Neymar joined the senior squad in 2009 and has helped the club win six titles, including the 2010 Brazilian Cup, the 2011 Copa Libertadores and three straight Sao Paulo state championships. He is Santos’ leading scorer in the post-Pele era with 138 goals in 230 matches.
“It’s a great honour to have played for Santos for so long, I’ve been here nearly my entire life,” Neymar said. “Today it ends part of my history with the club but I’ll be back. I’m saying goodbye but I’ll be back.”
His move to Barcelona ended years of speculation about which team would be the first to persuade him to make the move to Europe. Neymar never hid his desire to one day play for Barcelona, but Madrid became a real option to sign him this week. Bayern Munich and Chelsea also reportedly made high bids for the Brazilian star.
Financial details of the Barcelona transfer were not officially disclosed.
Fans faced lines of up to one kilometre to get into the Estadio Nacional on Sunday, one of the most expensive built for the Confederations Cup and the World Cup. The stadium’s lighting system failed partially, but it did not affect the match’s progress.
Defending champion Fluminense, trying to win its third title in four years, defeated Atletico Paranaense 2-1 at home. Ronaldinho’s Atletico Mineiro, last year’s runner-up, lost 2-1 to Coritiba in Curitiba. Fluminense and Atletico rested starters – including Ronaldinho – because they each are playing in the quarterfinals of the Copa Libertadores.
Also on Sunday, Atletico rival Cruzeiro scored four first-half goals to rout Goias 5-0 in Belo Horizonte. World Cup veterans Elano and Ze Roberto scored a goal each in Gremio’s 2-0 win over Nautico in Porto Alegre, while American Freddy Adu made his Brazilian league debut with Bahia in a 3-1 loss at Criciuma. Former Brazil defender Lucio scored in Sao Paulo’s 2-0 win over Ponte Preta in Campinas.
On Saturday, Sao Paulo state champion Corinthians drew Rio de Janeiro champion Botafogo 1-1 in Sao Paulo. Uruguay striker Diego Forlan scored a goal as Internacional drew Vitoria 2-2 in Salvador, while Ecuadorean striker Carlos Tenorio gave Vasco da Gama a 1-0 win over Portuguesa in Rio de Janeiro.
Palmeiras, the club with the most national titles, made its debut in the second division with a 1-0 win over Atletico Goianiense.