Neymar scored three times to help Brazil beat Peru 4-2 in their 2022 World Cup qualifier this week.
It wasn’t the most memorable hattrick in football history or even his Brazil career – it was comprised of two penalties and a tap-in – but in doing so he moved to 64 goals for his national side.
After the match he paid tribute to Ronaldo, who scored 62 times for the Selecao, writing “All my respect for you PHENOMENON” on Instagram.
On Wednesday, the 44-year-old responded with a touching tribute to the Paris Saint-Germain star:
“All my respect for you Neymar!
“He plays a lot, gives assistance, plays, dribbles and thrashes. The sky is the limit. Fly, kid!
“What a beautiful story you are writing. A complete and increasingly mature player. Crack! Handling the pressure off the pitch is sometimes more challenging than the ball itself.
“Now tell me: where did we come from, where did we arrive…who is going to tell us what is impossible? Keep trusting your instincts because the talent is yours and nobody can take it from you.
“You have a lot of records to overcome and marks to leave. Proud to see a Brazilian at the top!”
Neymar needs 14 more goals to overtake Pele’s 77 and become Brazil’s record goalscorer, and he must play 40 more games to overtake Cafu’s record of 142 appearances.
Given he’s 28, it’s far from inconceivable that Neymar could end his career with both records in the bag.
Even if the forward never played for his country again, his international career would be the envy of many a footballer. He has scored 64 goals and assisted 43 in 103 appearances for arguably the most storied national team in the sport, after all.
However, there’s an extra pressure when it comes to representing the five-time World Cup winners.
The Selecao’s most legendary players – the likes of Pele, Ronaldo and Cafu – earned their status not only through their goals and appearances, but by winning football’s greatest prize.
Neymar’s international career isn’t without silverware. In 2013, he helped Brazil win the Confederations Cup, and three years later he captained their under-23 side – as an overage player – to a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
He played a key role in both tournaments, scoring four goals in each as well as the decisive penalty in the final shootout of the latter.
Both victories were made all the more special by being on home soil, but neither compares to winning the Copa America or the World Cup.
The Selecao won the Copa last year, but an ankle injury suffered on the eve of the tournament meant Neymar missed out.
He was just 19 when he played in his first Copa in 2011, while in 2015 he did his team no favors by being sent off for petulance after the final whistle of their second group game, earning a four-match ban in the process.
Neymar performed well under immense pressure at the 2014 World Cup on home soil, scoring two braces, but he unfortunately suffered a fractured vertebra when he was kneed in the back by Colombia’s Juan Camilo Zuniga. The team crumbled without him in the semifinal, infamously losing 7-1 to eventual winners Germany.
Brazil exited the 2018 World Cup at the quarterfinal stage to Belgium. Neymar provided two goals and assists apiece in their five games, but his contributions to that tournament will be better remembered for a great deal of diving, playacting and a hairstyle that resembled a bowl of spaghetti.
So through a combination of bad luck and occasionally being his own worst enemy, Neymar hasn’t quite enjoyed the trophy-laden international career he otherwise might have.
It’s also important to note that the players’ whose legacy he is attempting to emulate frequently played in legendary teams surrounded by other world-class players.
While Brazil still boasts talent few nations can rival, relative to the eras of Pele and Ronaldo, Neymar’s hasn’t been a vintage period for the Selecao.
Fitness permitting, Neymar could realistically feature in two more Copas America and two more World Cups before he hangs up his boots, so there’s still plenty of opportunity for him to deliver a major honor.
To truly cement his legacy in the pantheon of Brazil’s greats, he’ll need to.