Toyota, Japan: Much-coveted Brazilian forward Neymar Monday said Barcelona were the best club in the world, in comments likely to fuel speculation about the 19-year-old's future and rile Real Madrid.
The young star, who has been linked with most of the top clubs in Europe, was speaking at the Club World Cup in Japan, where his Santos side could face the European champions in the final at the weekend.
"Barcelona are the best club in the world," said Neymar, who was thought to be heading to the Catalans' great rivals Real before he signed a two-year extension to his contract last month, tying him to Santos till 2014.
"If I have the opportunity to play them I will be very happy and will try to win the game," he added.
The South American champions take on Japan's best side Kashiwa Reysol on Wednesday in Toyota in the semi-finals of the intercontinental championship. Barca play the Qataris Al Sadd in the other semi a day later in Yokohama.
The international has been at the centre of a row between Pele and Diego Maradona, with the Brazilian legend saying Neymar was better than Barcelona and Argentina wizard Lionel Messi.
Press in South America have billed the tournament in Japan a showdown between two of the best players in the world.
"To be compared with Messi makes me very proud and I'm very pleased to have this comparison," said Neymar.
"I'm very happy to have this opportunity to play at the Club World Cup and very happy to have the chance to be a new name in the history of Santos. It's an honour for me."
Santos coach Muricy Ramalho believes the prodigious Neymar is up there with some of the greatest footballers ever including Zico, Rivelino and Zinedine Zidane, and branded his talent "absurd".
Asked if his man was as good as fellow Brazilians Zico and Rivelino, and the French master Zidane, Ramalho said: "Yes. Neymar is certainly on this level.
"And Iâ€™m someone who urges caution with regards to calling players great. In Brazil, a player has one good game and they say heâ€™s great," he told globoesporte.com.
"A great is a genius who sees the play before the others do. And that is rare. The best I saw was Zico. Pele doesnâ€™t count -- he was on a level of his own.
"Zico had all the fundamentals: he could head, dribble, shoot well with both feet, had great vision and was an athlete. This is a great. Zico, Rivelino, Zidane... Neymar is on this level.
"The way that he plays is absurd."