Rodrygo: Neymar remains Brazil’s star man

Real Madrid forward Rodrygo has defended his international teammate Neymar maintaining the Al Hilal star is still Brazil’s “main player.”

Neymar was hit by a bag of popcorn thrown from the stands by supporters after Thursday’s 1-1 home draw with Venezuela, an incident that Brazil coach Fernando Diniz condemned.

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Brazil fans were frustrated with the result and Neymar — the country’s talisman for so long — bore the brunt of that criticism.

“It doesn’t change anything if he [Neymar] is 31 or not, he continues with the same quality as always,” Rodrygo said.

“He remains our main player. Of course, when we lose or draw a game, the responsibility will be greater on him but when we win, it becomes clear that he is our best player and we depend a lot on him.”

Against Venezuela, Neymar set up Gabriel Magalhães for Brazil’s goal but had a game-high 18 misplaced passes and missed several chances.

Rodrygo, 22, had nothing but praise for Neymar, who last month overtook Pele to become Brazil’s all-time men’s top scorer with 79 goals in 125 international appearances.

“He is very important on the field and off the field too,” Rodrygo said of the former PSG and Barcelona forward.

“As much as they always say bad things about him, people who live closely with him know that he is totally different from the image that some people have of him.

“And because I have him as an idol, I’m often sad to see certain comments, to hear the things people say because he helps me a lot.

“He is always talking to me. Sometimes I’m at my club, he’s there in [Saudi] Arabia and he sends me a message, he says something positive to me. So that off-the-field [advice] influences us a lot and helps us a lot on the pitch.”

Neymar, meanwhile, understands the Brazil fans’ frustrations but was upset by Thursday’s popcorn incident.

“It’s sad, obviously it’s very sad,” Neymar said. “I condemn that kind of attitude, you don’t have to do it, it’s very bad for football and for human beings. I don’t come here on vacation, much less to go for a walk, I came to do what I love most, which is to play football and defend my country.

“Obviously, we are there doing our best, giving our best, and often the result doesn’t come, and it is not what the fans expect.”

Thursday’s result left Brazil second in their 10-team South American qualifying group with seven points from three games, two points adrift of World Cup holders Argentina.

Neymar and Brazil are back in action on Tuesday’s in another World Cup qualifier against Uruguay in Montevideo.

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