World Cup Is Neymar's Time to Stake Claim as World's Best Player

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistJune 27, 2014

Brazil's Neymar celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the group A World Cup soccer match between Cameroon and Brazil at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, June 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

Major tournaments make major players.

That has been a basic premise for many years, with the real greats of the game down the years historically associated with their performances at World Cups, European Championships and the like.

Maradona '86. Fontaine '58. Pele and the World Cup in general, in fact. There have been others; there will be more. Heading into the Brazil 2014 World Cup, a lot of the non-hosts-based talk was on the world's two best players, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, going into the finals at the peak of their form, at their prime age and ready to showcase their skills.

It didn't happen for Ronaldo: 22 shots, one goal, just the one win and Portugal have already gone home. Messi hasn't hit top gear but has dragged Argentina through the groups nonetheless.

Jon Super/Associated Press

But there is one more who has dominated build-up chatter and, pertinently, has delivered so far at the tournament: Brazil's golden boy Neymar, the man the host nation's hopes rest on and—somewhat like Messi—the man who has so far propelled his team through an unconvincing group stage.

Neymar encountered both praise and criticism during his debut season in La Liga with Barcelona, though, in truth, his move showed good mental strength and ambition, coming just 10 months before the World Cup itself.

Even by that point, he was already the go-to man for his nation, the player Felipe Scolari was building the assault around and a regular contributor to the score-sheet.

Neymar has now scored 35 goals in 52 games for Brazil. He's also laid on 20 assists. #BRAvsCAM #WorldCup

— Ben Smith (@BenSmithBBC) June 23, 2014

A good start to the campaign deteriorated somewhat as the season went on, but there was no doubt that Barcelona's stuttering season and the change of style contributed to that at least as much as Neymar's own form. Still, he has immense confidence in his own (equally immense) ability, and next year will see a new iteration of his club as Luis Enrique takes charge at Barça.

The World Cup, then, is Neymar's stage to leapfrog back into the front-runners to claim themselves as the world's best, with the tournament being the biggest stage of all.

Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

His start to the 2014 finals has been very good, if a little shy of electric. A little luck and a lot of repeated efforts have yielded him four goals in just the three group stage games, despite some erratic and downright poor performances from the supporting act of his team-mates.

DID YOU KNOW? - Neymar is the youngest player in Brazil's history, to have scored 4 goals at the FIFA World Cup group stage phase.

— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStats) June 24, 2014

The suspicion is that Brazil might improve—they will need to, to reach their objective of winning on home soil—as the tournament goes on.

If the supply line improves, so too will Neymar's goal count. If Brazil can indeed go on to win the World Cup, in front of their fans, Neymar will be central to everything that happens.

He'll be a national hero, a football folklore name alongside those of yesteryear and a big candidate for the Player of the Year award once more when the end of 2014 rolls along if he can take his international form back to Barcelona.

Neymar has all the tools to become one of the world's very best, not just the top 10 or 20 where he could be placed now, but have people argue for his side the way they do now with Ronaldo and Messi.

The World Cup is Neymar's stage, and only he can use it to propel himself toward that title of the world's greatest.