Neymar’s future with Brazil uncertain after World Cup loss

Dec 9, 2022, 4:24 PM | Updated: Dec 10, 2022, 6:25 am
Brazil's Neymar reacts at the end of the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Croatia and Br...

Brazil's Neymar reacts at the end of the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Croatia and Brazil, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

(AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The joy of scoring one of his biggest goals for Brazil quickly turned into tears after yet another disappointing elimination for Neymar with the national team.

The World Cup quarterfinal loss to Croatia was a tough one to take for the Brazil forward, and it could mean the end of his time with the national team.

Neymar remains without a major title with Brazil, and it’s unclear if he will try to be back for a fourth World Cup four years from now, when he will be 34 years old.

“It would be too hasty to come here and say that this is it, but I can’t guarantee anything,” Neymar said after Brazil’s 4-2 loss to Croatia in a penalty shootout on Friday. “I have to take some time to think about it. I’m not closing any doors to the Selecao, but I’m also not saying 100% that I want to be back.”

Before the tournament in Qatar, Neymar hadn’t ruled out this being his last World Cup appearance.

“Honestly, I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s hard to talk about it right now,” he said Friday. “Now it’s time to go home and lament.”

Not winning the title could keep him motivated to return, as for now his only triumphs with the national team remain the 2013 Confederations Cup title and the Olympic gold medal from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

Neymar theoretically has until March to make a decision about his future, because that’s when South American qualifying for the 2026 World Cup is expected to begin.

It looked like Neymar was going to send Brazil to the semifinals for the first time since 2014 when he scored in extra time to move into a tie with Pelé as the national team’s all-time scoring leader with 77 goals. But Croatia equalized in the final minutes and won the shootout after Rodrygo and Marquinhos failed to convert their penalties for the five-time champions.

Neymar didn’t even get a chance to help in the shootout because Brazil coach Tite had reserved him to take the fifth penalty, which never materialized.

“It’s hard to say that it would have made a difference (if I had taken one of the early penalties),” he said. “We can’t single out anyone. We win together and we lose together.”

Reaching the semifinals in Qatar could have meant redemption for Neymar after what happened at the 2014 tournament hosted by Brazil. He couldn’t play in the semifinals after hurting his back in the quarterfinal win against Colombia, and Brazil eventually lost to Germany 7-1.

Four years later, Neymar and Brazil lost to Belgium in the quarterfinals.

Neymar also missed the 2019 Copa America, which Brazil won at home, because of a right ankle problem.

He survived another injury scare in Qatar after damaging ligaments in his right ankle in Brazil’s opening match. It wasn’t clear if he would be able to play again, but he ended up recovering for the round of 16, when he scored one of Brazil’s goals in the 4-1 win over South Korea.

Neymar joined Brazil as an 18-year-old in 2010 and quickly became the nation’s top star. If he leaves now, there is no clear replacement for him. Vinícius Júnior and maybe Rodrygo — his immediate substitute in Qatar — could potentially try to fill that role.

Most fans hope Neymar will be back, and so does the man whose record he tied on Friday.

“Keep inspiring us,” Pelé said in a message to Neymar. “I will keep punching the air with joy for every goal you score, as I did in every match I saw you on the pitch. Our biggest duty as athletes is to inspire. Inspire our teammates of today, the next generations and, above all, everyone who loves our sport.”

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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