Name: Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior
Occupation: Captain and forward for the Brazilian national team and forward for FC Barcelona.
Why he’s a big deal: Leading up to the 2014 World Cup, everything was coming up Neymar. He joined FC Barcelona in 2013, and that same year Brazilian legend Ronaldinho predicted Neymar would supersede his new teammate Lionel Messi as the best player in the world.
At the outset of the World Cup, Time Magazine boldly declared Neymar the savior of Brazilian soccer in a cover story that anointed him successor to Pelé, the greatest soccer player of all time. Neymar also covered the June 2014 issue of Vogue Brazil alongside fellow Brazilian superstar Gisele Bündchen (a nice companion shot to rival Cristiano Ronaldo’s much more naked cover of Vogue Spain with then-girlfriend Irina Shayk). No pressure there whatsoever.
Last moments at the World Cup: Getting kneed in the back by Juan Camilo Zúñiga in the quarterfinal game against Colombia and subsequently carried off the field in a stretcher. For once, this wasn’t a player dramatically diving and falling into a crying fit – Neymar suffered a fractured vertebra and was sidelined for the rest of the tournament to the detriment of himself, his team and frankly, his entire country. Without Neymar, Brazil went on to lose to Germany 7-1 in a game so shameful the media dubbed it the Mineirazo – a nod to the Maracanazo, the devastating loss to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup finals that drove Brazilian fans to suicide. His team’s humiliation aside, Neymar still managed to snag the Bronze Boot as the third top goal scorer in the tournament.
How has he been performing since then: Neymar is still a star player for his club, Barcelona, scoring 14 goals in 12 games and has managed to form something of a bromance with fellow South American superstars Messi and Luis Suarez. He was also shortlisted for the 2015 FIFA Ballon d’Or, but beaten out by Messi and Ronaldo. Sadly, his performance for his national team wasn’t so hot last year, as he was banned from the remainder of the 2015 Copa America after kicking the ball at Colombia’s Pablo Armero.
What he’s been up to off the field: Neymar’s star-power hasn’t dulled since his soul-crushing exit from the World Cup. In 2016, he became the first soccer star to collaborate with the Jordan brand and even got to meet the legend himself.
And no matter his performance on the field, Neymar has the kind of rabid fandom befitting someone who looks like a lost boy band member (and has the array of hairstyles to match). His followers even have their own nickname – the “neymarzetes.”
When will we see him in Rio: Brazil has been placed in Group A and is scheduled to play its first game against South Africa on August 4th, followed by matches against Iraq and Denmark. Of course, considering his massive celebrity, Neymar will likely make appearances elsewhere in the Olympics, and a Rio de Janeiro poll earlier this year placed him fourth as the athlete locals would most like to see carrying Brazil’s flag in the opening ceremony.
How big are the stakes for him at the Olympics: Pretty fucking big. Despite pleas from the Brazilian Football Confederation, Barcelona allowed Neymar to represent Brazil only at the Olympics and not the Copa America Centenaraio.
And without him, Brazil is faring – well, not so great, to put it mildly.
If Neymar does help Brazil make it out of the group stage and into the knockout round – which thanks to an easy group he almost certainly will – his team will potentially face the very people who robbed them from victory on the world stage. Brazil could match up against Germany, and though nothing could erase the shame of having their asses handed to them on their own turf, knocking Germany out of the Olympics (on their own turf again) could ease the embarrassment of the 2014 World Cup (of course, a loss would rub heaps of salt onto the perpetually open wound that is the Mineirazo). Brazil could also play Mexico, the very team who edged them out for gold at the men’s soccer finals of the 2012 London Olympics. Also on the roster are Colombia – you know, the ones who smashed Neymar’s World Cup dreams – and longstanding rival Argentina.
Add to that the fact that an Olympic Gold Medal is the only major international title the Brazilian national team has never won and suffice to say there is a lot riding on Neymar’s performance at the Rio games.