All eyes on Neymar in Club World Cup semi-final

Santos make their highly anticipated entry into the Club World Cup on Wednesday when they face plucky Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol, but all the focus is on one man - Neymar.

Updated: December 13, 2011 15:50 IST
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Toyota: Santos make their highly anticipated entry into the Club World Cup on Wednesday when they face plucky Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol, but all the focus is on one man - Neymar.

The Brazilians will be relying on the highly talented 19-year-old forward to shoot them to a probable final showdown with Barcelona, while Kashiwa's Brazilian boss, a former Santos player and coach, must try to stop him.

Arguably the most high-profile name after Lionel Messi at the intercontinental championship in Japan, Neymar, who has been linked with a big-money move to Europe, said he wanted to write his name in Santos folklore.

"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," he said.

His comments came at the end of a training session that was open to the public and saw dozens of children sporting imitations of the international's flamboyant hairdo -- bleached blond hair in a quasi-Mohican.

Neymar, who showed off bright green boots at the public showing and was cheered every time he touched the ball, said at a previous press conference that he had been shocked that so many people in Japan knew him and "loved" him.

The slight teenager said that he was flattered to be talked about in the same breath as Messi, the brilliant Argentine who like his Barcelona side is widely acknowledged to be the best in the world.

The European champions take on Al Sadd of Qatar in the other semi, on Thursday, in a match they will be fully expected to win.

There is similar pressure on Santos back home in Brazil, where the Club World Cup is regarded as a major trophy.

The 61-year-old Nelsinho, whose spell as coach has seen Kashiwa leap from second-division obscurity to the J-League championship in just two seasons, said Neymar had the potential to be the best player in the world.

"He's an outstanding player with huge, huge potential," he said. "Of course we will have to be very cautious not only of him, but of the whole Santos team."

Nelsinho rolled off the likes of striker Borges, who scored a prolific 23 goals in 29 games in Brazil in 2011, and Ganso, the subtle foil to Neymar who before injury was also mooted for a big-money move to Europe.

Nelsinho, who has been hailed in the Japanese press for his "Nelsinho magic" after steering the side from Chiba, near Tokyo, to the most successful spell in its history, said it was probably the biggest game of his long career.

"The match is extremely important for my career. Barcelona and Santos are favourites (to win the tournament), but we have the opportunity to play them (Santos), so for any professional this is an extremely big chance," he said.

"It might be the most important in my career," he added, saying that he would not let fond memories of his time at the Brazilian giants distract him.

"I've a great gratitude to Santos but I'm not bringing those emotions to the game," he said.

Kashiwa, who grabbed the last berth at the tournament as champions of the host league, defeated Auckland City and then survived a nail-biting penalty shoot-out against the Mexicans Monterrey to reach the last four.

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