Brazil football legend Pele has reached out to a shattered Neymar after his country suffered a shock World Cup quarter-final defeat to Croatia. The five-time champions from South America were bundled out 4-2 on penalties against Croatia, who will play Argentina in the semi-finals after their own 4-3 win on penalties against the Netherlands.
Neymar must have thought he'd won the match for Brazil after a goalless 90 minutes, when he struck for the Selecao in extra time, only to see Croatia substitute Bruno Petkovic equalise with three minutes of the 120 minutes remaining, with his side's first shot on target for the match. The Croats then kept their composure from the penalty spot after Brazil's Rodrygo had the first penalty saved by goalkeeping hero Dominik Livakovic, before Marquinhos struck the post with his crucial fourth effort. Nikola Vlasic, Lovro Majer, Luka Modric and Mislav Orsic were all successful from the spot for Croatia.
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Following the defeat, Neymar - whose goal saw him equal national hero Pele's goalscoring record for Brazil - was reduced to tears as teammates tried to console him on the pitch. Pele has been at the forefront of the team's thoughts during the tournament, following news he had been admitted to hospital back in Brazil.
However, the 82-year-old showed his class with a beautiful message to Neymar after the Paris St-Germain forward equalled his official record of 77 goals for the national side in his 124th appearance.
“I saw you grow, I cheered for you every day and I can finally congratulate you for reaching my number of goals with Brazil. We both know that this is more than a figure,” the 82-year-old Pelé wrote on Instagram. “Our biggest duty as athletes is to inspire. Inspire our teammates of today, the next generations and, above all, everyone who loves our sport.
“Unfortunately this is not the happiest day for us,” Pelé added. “My record was set almost 50 years ago, and nobody had managed to get near it until now. You got there, kid. That shows how great your achievement is.”
The wonderful message melted the hearts of fans on social media, who were left shattered by the scenes of Neymar in tears at the end of the game. He later admitted that it may have been his last World Cup for Brazil in a bombshell admission that will leave fans devastated.
Ahh, Pele’s message to Neymar is genuinely heartwarming man. pic.twitter.com/uAVLM4QW1t
— Umir (@umirf1) December 9, 2022
— VibhAkar GupTa (@VibhakarGupta) December 9, 2022
The king Pelé shows his support to Neymar on Instagram.
— ⋆𝗡𝗲𝘆𝗺𝗼𝗹𝗲𝗾𝘂𝗲 🇧🇷 (@Neymoleque) December 9, 2022
— beIN SPORTS (@beINSPORTS_EN) December 9, 2022
genuinely feel bad for neymar, heartbreak after heartbreak💔 pic.twitter.com/fwUGEPJ0Qr
— Sanil🇵🇹 (@Sanil_fernandes) December 9, 2022
Heartbreak for Neymar 😭 Might be the last time we see him play for Brazil pic.twitter.com/2IbNYCDTi7
— Asim (@asim23_) December 9, 2022
"I am not closing any doors on the national team but I am also not guaranteeing 100% that I will return," said Neymar, who made his international debut aged 18. "I need to think a bit more about this, about what is the right thing for me and for the national team."
Neymar revealed that this defeat was even tougher to take than the 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Belgium at the World Cup Russia four years ago. Brazil were regarded by many experts to be strong favourites to claim a sixth World Cup title and few gave Croatia any realistic chance of upsetting them in the last-eight.
"It is an awful feeling. I think this is a worse feeling than what happened at the last World Cup," Neymar said. "It is difficult to find the words to describe this moment. We fought and I am proud of my team-mates, proud of the character they showed to step up and take penalties."
— SBS Sport (@SBSSportau) December 9, 2022
Brazil coach Tite also dropped a bombshell shortly after the defeat by announcing that he was leaving his role, effective immediately. The 61-year-old says he "goes in peace" after spending six years in charge as Brazil's head coach.
"It is a painful defeat but I go in peace. It is the end of a cycle," the outgoing Brazil coach told media after the game. "I already said that a year and a half ago. I didn't come here to win and then turn around and say I was going to stay. People who know me know that."
Croatia in World Cup shock for the ages
Croatia had initially refused to be intimidated by their more illustrious opponents and in the first half successfully stifled most Brazil moves early. Apart from a weak Vinicius Jr. shot, Brazil had little else to offer in terms of attack with Neymar off the pace and shut out by a hard-working backline.
Croatia looked sharper, more skilled in their passing game and with a precise game plan, and by the end of the first half they perhaps surprisingly had the upper hand in terms of possession. It was a different story after the break when Josko Gvardiol tried to clear the ball but almost turned it into his own goal.
That was followed moments later by claims for a hand ball by defender Josip Juranovic which were shot down following a VAR review, before Neymar was sent through by Richarlison in the 55th minute only to have his close-range effort blocked by Livakovic.
The Brazilians, who have now lost four of their last five World Cup quarter-finals against European opposition, came close again in the 66th when Lucas Paqueta was denied by Livakovic. The Croatia keeper also stopped Neymar in the 76th and by that time had more saves in the match - seven- than his Brazil counterpart, Alisson, had in the entire tournament (five).
In stoppage time of the first period of extra time, Neymar, largely lacklustre until then, launched an attack outside the box, played two consecutive one-twos to bamboozle the tired Croatian defence and then rounded the keeper to equal Pele's record.
The Croats refused to surrender and after Petkovic's equaliser forced penalties, they came out on top in the shootout with Livakovic the toast of a small European nation that continues to punch above its weight in major tournaments.
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