Sao Paulo: Barcelona forward Neymar has almost recovered from a foot injury and hopes to play in Saturday’s Spanish league decider against Atletico Madrid, the Brazilian said in an internet chat with fans on Monday.
The 22-year-old will have a late fitness test before the May 17 game, one that Barcelona have to win to take the La Liga title for the fifth time in six seasons.
Neymar also said he would be back to full fitness for Brazil’s World Cup campaign, which begins next month.
“I am in the home straight in terms of recovery and I’ll see if I am able to play (Saturday),” Neymar said. “I have started training.”
Having lost in the Champions League to Atletico and the Copa del Rey to Real Madrid, La Liga is Barcelona’s last chance for silverware this season and Neymar said they would give it their all.
Saturday’s clash between Atletico and Barca at the Nou Camp will be only the third “winner takes all” match on the final day of the campaign in history and the first since 1951.
A win or a draw would be enough for Atletico, while Barca need to beat the Madrid club to triumph by virtue of a superior head-to-head record, used to separate teams if they finish level on points.
“We are really ready for this,” he said. “Atletico have a great team, great players and it is going to be hard to beat them but we have no other choice other than to go for it.”
Neymar has struggled with injuries this year. He pulled a muscle that kept him out for several weeks in January and February and then injured the fourth metatarsal of his left foot in the Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid in April.
However, he said the worst was over and promised to be 100 per cent fit for the World Cup, the first to be held in Brazil since 1950.
“I was a bit anxious over the call-up but after it happened I was really happy,” he said of last week’s squad announcement.
“The penny hasn’t dropped yet, that will only happen once we’re there. There’s no reason for me to be nervous or feel pressure as you’re in your own country, with your family.”
Neymar, who is thinking about getting a new hairstyle for the World Cup, said he had told Barca teammate Lionel Messi that Argentina can forget about winning the World Cup in Brazil.
“I told him: ‘There’s no way you’re going to do that in Brazilů You can forget winning the World Cup in Brazil’. Our fans alone make it 1-0 to us.”
Brazil play the opening game of the tournament on June 12 against Croatia in Sao Paulo. Rio de Janeiro hosts the final on July 13.
Neymar has made it clear that he will not stay at Barcelona until the end of his career as he aims to retire at his boyhood club Santos.
The striker left Vila Belmiro for Camp Nou ahead of the 2013-14 campaign, but he is keen to return to his native country at some point in the future before eventually hanging up his boots.
“The only thing that is certain is that I will end my career at Santos,” Neymar told reporters. “It is something to think about whether I would be willing to play for another team in Brazil before that.
“It wouldn’t be a problem to sit down and hear an offer. The club can be from Sao Paulo, from Rio de Janeiro or from any other state of Brazil.”
Neymar then went on to stress that there were several reasons behind his decision to leave Santos, including a new challenge in La Liga and the Champions League.
“It wasn’t just about the money, that’s not why I left,” the attacker insisted. “I wanted to live a dream, play other competitions, play the Champions League, grow, evolve, learn another language, that’s what motivated me to come to the European continent.”
Meanwhile, Zico said Neymar will be key to Brazil's fortunes in the World Cup. “Scolari’s Brazil are a team who are very strong collectively; they put opponents under pressure. They go for the jugular from the start and try to get an early goal instead of waiting to counterattack. Neymar is in a different situation than Lionel Messi.
“Messi has Argentina's team built around him while the Selecao is not as dependent on Neymar. Neymar will be instrumental if Brazil want to go far.”
Speaking of Messi, Zico sees Argentina as the biggest danger. “They found a way to get the best of Messi and they have an absurd amount of attacking players. Their group is not difficult (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria) and they will travel much less than other teams.”
Much has been said about how the draw could force a meeting between Brazil and Spain in the first knockout game. Zico, though, scoffs at such fears.
“You can’t win the World Cup without playing the big boys. Indeed, the draw has pitfalls, but you have to remember the European countries will have to handle the experience of playing in South America. Brazil have shown composure and the players understood the responsibility that comes with playing a World Cup at home.”
He also thinks Spain and Germany are obvious contenders. “It may seem that Spain have lost the hunger to succeed. But you can never underestimate them. Germany are also dangerous.”