Despite 3 goals, Neymar says he’s not in top form

Neymar says he is still far from his best despite coming off a

hat trick in his best performance of the year.

Neymar scored three second-half goals and set up another in

Santos’ 4-1 win over Botafogo in the Sao Paulo state championship

on Thursday, but he left the field admitting there is still room

for improvement.

The Brazil striker said he is capable of doing more and will

work hard to reach his top form as soon as possible in 2012.

”I’m still feeling out of rhythm and I’m not as in form as I

wanted to be,” Neymar said. ”I want more and I will keep working

hard to always keep improving.”

Neymar scored his 100th career goal on his 20th birthday last

Sunday but was yet to play well with Santos this year. He struggled

again early against Botafogo in Ribeirao Preto on Thursday but came

through with a top-notch performance in the second half.

With Santos 1-0 down, Neymar scored his first goal with a header

in the 77th minute, then added another with a penalty kick in the

79th and scored his third from inside the area two minutes into

injury time.

Before the match was over, he still had time to make a nice

through-pass for Felipe Anderson to score the fourth.

”This is what Neymar is all about,” Santos coach Muricy

Ramalho said. ”He can change the game at any moment. He didn’t

play well in the first half but made the difference in the second.

When a player of this quality is on the field, anything can happen.

He showed it tonight.”

It was only Neymar’s third match this year because he and most

of Santos’ starters returned from vacation later than the rest of

the team after playing late into December in FIFA’s Club World Cup.

Santos lost the final to Barcelona in a match in which Lionel Messi

outplayed Neymar from the start.

Thursday’s match also marked the debut of Uruguay right back

Jorge Fucile, who was signed with Santos to help the team defend

its title in the Copa Libertadores, Latin America’s most important

club competition.

Muricy praised Fucile’s performance after he came off the bench

in the second half. The coach said Fucile will probably start in

the Copa Libertadores against The Strongest of Bolivia next

Wednesday.

Also Thursday, Ronaldinho missed a penalty kick but Flamengo was

still able to defeat Madureira 1-0 in the Rio de Janeiro state

championship. Ronaldinho was briefly jeered by fans at the Engenhao

stadium after another disappointing performance.

Club directors, meanwhile, said they had paid what was owed in

salaries to the two-time FIFA player of the year, something that

had prompted Ronaldinho to makes threats that he would not to play

until getting paid.

The match against Madureira marked the debut with Flamengo of

former South Africa coach Joel Santana, who replaced Vanderlei

Luxemburgo.

On Wednesday, Uruguayan striker Sebastian ”El Loco” Abreu

scored twice in Botafogo’s 5-0 routing of Olaria, while Argentine

striker Hernan Barcos made his debut with Palmeiras in the second

half of the team’s 3-2 win over XV de Piracicaba in the Sao Paulo

state championship.

The Brazilian football season does not follow the European

calendar and starts in the beginning of the year. Regional

championships in the 26 states take place in the first few months,

with the Brazilian league running from May until December.

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