SAO PAULO — Ahead of his 100th game with Brazil, Neymar is adamant that he still deserves special treatment in the national team despite never having won a major title in his nine years wearing the famous yellow shirt.
The 27-year-old forward will reach the century mark in a friendly against Senegal in Singapore on Thursday (Friday, Manila time), and defended his status as the team's biggest star even though Brazil won this summer's Copa America without him.
"I was always one of the main figures and one of those carrying it all on my back," Neymar said at a news conference Wednesday when asked about getting special treatment. "I never ran away from that. I always played my role in the national team very well. When a player reaches that level it is normal that there is a different treatment."
"I was in places that had players with more history than me and I had to respect what coaches did for them," the Paris Saint-Germain striker added. "Messi has a different treatment at Barcelona. Is it because he is better looking? No. It is because he is decisive. He earned it. I don't say that only about myself, but I say it about everyone that has performances at that level. That is normal in soccer."
Neymar's comments come at a time when some Brazil fans have accused coach Tite and the Brazilian soccer confederation of being too lenient with the striker over his problems off the pitch. Those include his altercation with a fan after the French Cup final in April; his insistence that his father-agent was allowed into Brazil's dressing room during a pre-Copa America friendly; and a rape allegation that was recently closed by police.
Neymar is currently at odds with PSG's fans as well after trying to force a return to Barcelona during the offseason.
And in Brazil, he remains the country's most polarizing player.
His statistics with the national team are impressive: 61 goals and 42 assists in 99 games so far. That puts him one goal behind two-time World Cup winner Ronaldo, who is in second place on Brazil's all-time list of top scorers with 62. Pele tops the list with 77.
With Neymar in the team, Brazil has 70 victories, 19 draws and 10 defeats. But aside from the 2013 Confederations Cup, no titles.
At the 2014 World Cup at home, Neymar injured his back in the quarterfinal win over Colombia and the team was humiliated 7-1 by Germany in the semifinals without him. At least year's World Cup in Brazil he was far from his best after recovering from a foot injury, and made little impact as Brazil lost 2-1 to Belgium in the quarterfinals.
And this summer he had to miss the Copa America because of an injury he sustained shortly before the tournament.
Asked about his best memories with the national team, Neymar picked his debut, his World Cup debut in 2014 and the goal he scored in the opening game of the tournament against Croatia.
"There is a positive balance, but it isn't all about victories in the life of an athlete," Neymar said. "There are many disappointments, defeats and mistakes. But if you fight for it, in the end, you make up for your mistakes. I am very happy to reach that mark of 100 matches. Not even in my best dreams I thought this could happen."