Fifa World Cup 2018 closing ceremony: Will Smith defends Neymar injury play-acting as alphabet meme mocks Brazil star
The actor and rapper, who will perform the official World Cup song ahead of Sunday’s final, also admits he loves Cristiano Ronaldo’s fashion sense
Neymar is still being regularly mocked for his play-acting and diving at the World Cup, but at least he’s received some much-welcome support from Hollywood pal Will Smith.
The film star and rapper will perform the official World Cup song before Sunday’s final between France and Croatia, alongside Nicky Jam and Era Istrefi, his fellow performers on “Live It Up”.
And during a media conference at the Luzhniki Stadium, where the trio were set to rehearse their performance, Smith was asked which team he had been supporting in Russia.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Brazil, and I just love the Brazilian team. I have a really interesting relationship with Neymar,” Smith said.
“We have literally been in the same city and tried to meet literally 10 times, and we’ve got right to just about meeting and now it’s the joke, we text and talk and things like that.
“But you know he’s one of my favourites, and when I was growing up it was all Pele, so I have a little bit of a soft spot in my heart for the Brazilian team.”
The 49-year-old then laughed off a question from a Brazilian journalist, who asked him how he rated the Paris Saint-Germain forward’s acting skills.
“I’ve been in the business way too long to answer that question,” Smith said. “I think he did a spectacular job, that’s my man.”
Neymar has been mercilessly trolled on social media with memes mocking his World Cup dramatics, while Manchester United legend Eric Cantona even compared him to a yellow suitcase spinning on its wheels.
Brazilian designer Luciano Jacob also made a hilarious picture of Neymar as every letter of the alphabet, clutching body parts in supposed agony and falling through mid-air.
“When you want to perform on a world scale like that there’s going to be good days and bad days,” Smith said of the criticism.
“You know, as an actor you have situations where sometimes you make The Pursuit of Happyness, sometimes you make Independence Day, and every once in a while you make a Wild Wild West,” Smith added, laughing, as he compared two of his best-loved hits to one of his most panned films.
— Inder Sohal (@indersohal) July 7, 2018
Neymar’s theatrics also spawned the “Neymar Challenge”, where fans film themselves dropping to the ground and dramatically writhing around.
It was Brazil’s round of 16 win against Mexico that drew the most ire, when the 26-year-old was accused of trying to get Miguel Layun sent off by rolling around on the touchline and screaming after the defender stepped on his ankle.
Mexico boss Juan Carlos Osorio called Neymar’s antics “shameful” and “an embarrassment to football” after the match, which Brazil won 2-0 with Neymar scoring one goal and assisting the other.
Brazil went on to be knocked out in the quarter-finals by Belgium, with Neymar having spent a combined 14 minutes on the floor during the tournament.
And Fresh Prince of Bel Air star Smith had some fun when asked how Brazil’s early exit compared to his films.
He said: “It wasn’t Men In Black but, you know, it wasn’t Wild Wild West. So it was right there in the middle somewhere.”
Smith did have some kinder words for Cristiano Ronaldo, however, whose Portugal side crashed out to Uruguay in the last 16.
“I love Cristiano, like I love that dude,” Smith said. “We’ve only crossed paths once but I feel like he has impeccable taste.
“And just seeing the things he does and the way he interacts with people – he has impeccable taste and style.”