Crocked Brazilian star Neymar declared he wants Lionel Messi to lead fierce rivals Argentina to victory over Germany as the countdown to the World Cup final began.
Neymar, who missed Brazil’s 7-1 humiliation against Germany through injury, said he wanted Messi and Argentina to win the title.
“Messi’s history in the sport is so important, he has won a lot of trophies and I will be cheering for him,” said Neymar, a teammate of Messi’s at Barcelona.
“He is a friend, he is my team-mate and I wish him luck.”
Neymar’s support of Messi, and by extension Argentina, is unlikely to be shared by many of his compatriots.
Brazilians are dreading the prospect of Argentina claiming their third world title in the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.
The South American nations are sworn footballing enemies, and Argentina’s advance to the final rubbed salt into Brazilian wounds still fresh from Tuesday’s record defeat to Germany.
“The nightmare continues,” O Dia newspaper commented glumly after Argentina booked their place in the final by beating the Netherlands on Wednesday.
As many as 100,000 Argentine fans are expected to descend on Rio for the final, the climax of a month-long footballing fiesta.
Neymar became emotional when talking about the injury that ruled him out of the World Cup, saying that if the knee to his back had been slightly more to one side he “could be in a wheelchair” right now.
The Brazil striker cried as he recalled the injury, saying “God blessed” him and prevented a more serious injury. Neymar had to stop talking for several seconds, lowering his head and putting a hand in front of his eyes.
“It’s difficult to talk about a move that [happened] in such an important moment of my career,” he said.
Neymar fractured his third vertebra when defender Juan Camilo Zuniga hit him from behind in a challenge late in the quarter-final against Colombia.
“If it had been 2 centimetres to the centre...,” he said, struggling to stay composed. “I could be in a wheelchair.”
The 22-year-old striker complained about Zuniga’s challenge, although he said the Colombian called to apologise.
“I don’t know if he was trying to hurt me, but if you understand football you know that it was not a normal challenge,” Neymar said.
“I can’t protect myself when I’m not facing the play. The only thing that can protect me from someone coming from behind are the rules. I couldn’t protect myself and I ended getting hurt.”
Neymar had been recovering at home but returned to the team’s training camp on Thursday. He will travel with the squad to Brasilia to support them in the third-place match against the Netherlands on Saturday.
Neymar said the injury led to “the worst week of his life,” one that culminated – in his absence – with Brazil’s 7-1 thrashing. He said he didn’t know how to explain what happened, and that it would be “unfair for this group” to be remembered by that result alone.
“It would have been all right to lose, but not like this. It was unbelievable, inexplicable,” Neymar said. “I don’t have the words to explain what happened.”
He said the loss was “part of football”, and that he thought Brazil had the potential to rebound and win the next World Cup.
“We can’t lower our heads,” he said. “It will hurt for a long time, but better days will come.”
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press