Neymar tipped to succeed Messi as world’s best
BARELY out of his teens, Brazilian Neymar is already a veritable world star, distinguished by his Mohican haircut and hailed as the next global footballing legend.
Tonight the 20-year-old lines up against South Africa, continuing a rich tradition of high profile, quality players that Bafana Bafana have found themselves having to counter over the last 20 years.
Indeed, Neymar might be the best yet, given Lionel Messi and his Argentine generation have not had a game against South Africa.
Neymar is tipped as a future successor to Messi’s mantle as the world’s best. He is already hailed as the best Brazilian since Pele. He could be the best player South Africa have ever faced yet, although the competition is strong.
Of the winners of FIFA’s World Footballer of the Year, an award instituted in 1991 the year before Bafana began playing, the vast majority have played an international against South Africa. Some might even have a Bafana shirt still in their collection.
Three time winner Zinedine Zidane made the biggest impression to date, coming on at half time of a friendly at rain- soaked Lens in 1997 when Bafana were leading France 1-0 away at half-time. Zidane turned the game around with his probing passes and clever surges and South Africa lost 2-1, with coach Clive Barker famously admitting afterwards he had never heard of the player. “Who was he?” he asked in the press conference afterwards.
Zidane was back to haunt the country again in the opening game of the 1998 World Cup in Marseille.
Brazilians Romario, Rivaldo and Kaka have all line-up against South Africa and Cristiano Ronaldo came on as a second half substitute when Bafana met Portugal in a friendly three years ago.
George Weah was player-coach when the Liberian side met South Africa in Monrovia in 2001, albeit near the end of his powers by then. Fabio Cannavaro was in the Italy team that beat Bafana in 2001, five years before he was named World Footballer of the Year. Paolo Maldini played in the same game.
The there have been the likes of David Beckham, Didier Drogba and the classy Spanish midfield duo of Xavi and Andres Iniesta. And Michael Essien, who scored twice at Soccer City to end South Africa’s hopes of going to the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Beckham played twice against us, at Old Trafford in 1997 and again in Durban in 2003. Drogba made his international debut in Polokwane, in a game in which South Africa won on the back of a myriad of missed chances by the Ivorians.
Thierry Henry played against South Africa on numerous occasions, even at under-20 level at the 1997 World Youth Championships in Malaysia. Michael Owen of England played at under-17 level against South Africa.