Tearful Brazil star Neymar says he is prepared to set aside the historical rivalry between South America’s two footballing heavyweights as he wants four-time world footballer of the year Lionel Messi to win the World Cup when Argentina meets Germany in Sunday’s final.
At an emotional press conference Neymar, who missed Brazil’s 7-1 humiliation against Germany in the semi-finals because of a broken vertebrae, said his Barcelona clubmate Messi deserved to add World Cup winner to his honours.
“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.
“He is a friend, he is my team-mate and I wish him luck.”
His own misfortune prompted Neymar to wipe away tears as he described his fears, immediately after the knee in the back from Colombian Juan Camil Zuniga in the quarter-final, that he would be paralysed.
“I was blessed in that situation because it wasn’t more serious. Two more centimetres up and, well, I could be in a wheelchair. So it is really difficult.
“It happened at such an important point in my career,” he said.
“It was something I cannot accept. That challenge and what happened was unacceptable,” added the 22-year-old.
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.
However, not among their number will be Argentinian president Christine Kirchner who despite going ahead with a meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday says she is too ill to attend.
She wrote to Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff to say while she will attend a summit of emerging powers in Brasilia next week she cannot make the final because she has been battling pharyngolaryngitis — inflammation of the pharynx and larynx.
– ‘Plan for Messi’ –
Germany meanwhile said they had quickly wiped away the euphoria felt from their thrashing of Brazil.
Germany’s veteran striker Miroslav Klose, who became the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer with the second goal against Brazil, said his team had quickly forgotten the momentous win.
“We enjoyed the game against Brazil, but we ticked it off after 24 hours,” Klose said. “In the next game, we have to again play to the best of our abilities.”
Argentina’s players began plotting Germany’s downfall as they returned to Belo Horizonte.
Striker Sergio Aguero said his team-mates were comfortable in the marginal underdog role, insisting all the pressure would be on Germany.
“Germany were always the favourites, along with Brazil, to win the World Cup,” the Manchester City man said.
“They continue to be so now. We need to play our own game and it suits us that all the pressure is on them.”
Despite the invasion of thousands of Argentinian fans for the final security arrangements have not been altered, according to Brazilian justice minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo.
Some 26,000 police and soldiers will provide security the same as originally planned, Cardozo said after a meeting with FIFA and the federal government.
Cardozo also drew the positives out of the finals themselves for Brazil as a country despite their side having failed spectacularly to deliver a sixth title.
“We lost on the field but off of it we are winning and the world is applauding this,” he said, referring to Brazil’s organization of the tournament, in comments picked up by the web site of the newspaper Globo.