Santos striker Neymar knows his team faces a tough challenge in its hunt to become the first South American winners of the Club World Cup since Internacional’s 2006 title.
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Champions League winner Barcelona and South American champion Santos of Brazil are the seeded teams in the tournament that features seven sides from FIFA’s six continental confederations, and enter in the semifinal stage from Dec. 15.
Santos will face the winner of Sunday’s quarterfinal between Japan’s Kashiwa Reysol and CONCACAF champion Monterrey of Mexico in Wednesday’s semifinals, with a potential showdown with Lionel Messi and Barcelona awaiting in the final.
”If our opponents gave me a bit of space it would be nice because I am always receiving fouls,” Neymar said at a press conference Friday. ”But this is the Club World Cup. There are a lot of very good teams here and we know the matches will be difficult.”
Despite widespread talk of a possible move to Real Madrid or Barcelona, Neymar agreed to a new contract with Santos last month that ties him to the club until the South American country hosts the 2014 World Cup.
Brazil’s most promising young star in years, Neymar said the contract will allow him to stay near his family and friends for as long as possible.
Santos won this tournament in 1962 and 1963 when it was known as the Intercontinental Cup, well before Neymar’s time and the 19-year-old is eager to make his mark in Japan.
”This tournament is very important for me and my teammates and we want to win this tournament very much,” said Neymar, who scored 13 goals in 21 matches this season to be named player of the year in the Brazilian league.
Barcelona is returning to the tournament two years after Messi led the Spanish giants to the title in the United Arab Emirates, scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 win over Argentina’s Estudiantes.
Santos coach Muricy Ramalho said the European champions are the clear favorites.
”Of course, Barcelona is the best club team in the world,” Ramalho said. ”They have great organization and I admire them for that, but we are in good shape and are ready for the Club World Cup.”
Santos will be without Adriano after the 24-year-old defensive midfielder suffered an ankle injury against Atletico Goianiense that will require surgery and keep him on the sidelines until next year.
”He will be sorely missed,” Neymar said on FIFA.com. ”It is a big loss, especially for him because he was enjoying a wonderful moment in his career.”
Neymar said the absence of Adriano will make stopping Messi all the more difficult should the two teams meet in the final on Dec. 18 at Yokohama.
”I’ve always said Messi is the top player in the world right now,” Neymar said. ”Stopping him is very difficult, but we are looking at ways to slow him down.”
Santos midfielder Elano, who scored two goals for Brazil in the 2010 World Cup before succumbing to injury, said he was looking forward to the competition in Japan.
”I started off well at the World Cup but then got injured and this season I also had some injuries,” Elano said. ”So the goal now is to win the Club World Cup and I am putting a lot of importance on this tournament.”
Santos qualified for the Club World Cup after beating Uruguay’s Penarol to win its first Copa Libertadores title since the Pele era.
The Club World Cup is back in Japan for the first time since 2008 after two editions in the UAE.