SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Neymar is the best player in the world right now and his return to the Brazil team to face Argentina in the World Cup qualifiers will give the visitors a vital boost, coach Dunga said on Wednesday.
“If we look at the ranking by numbers and statistics, Neymar is superior right now,” Dunga said when asked to compare the 23-year-old with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who have dominated the World Player of the Year award since 2008.
“Messi is injured, Cristiano is expected to repeat what he did last year,” Dunga added. “Neymar has improved consistently since he arrived at Barcelona (in 2013). He has done all that was expected of him with Messi out. He’s in great form.”
Neymar missed Brazil’s first two World Cup qualifiers against Chile and Venezuela due to a ban imposed for violent conduct which saw him sent off in their 1-0 defeat by Colombia in the group phase of the Copa America earlier this year.
Without him Brazil lost 2-0 to Chile but beat Venezuela 3-1 at home and are in fifth place in the 10-team table, with the top four qualifying automatically for Russia 2018 and the fifth-placed side facing a playoff.
Argentina, who have one point from their opening two games and lie in seventh, come into Thursday’s fixture with serious injury worries.
A front three of Messi, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez are all sidelined but Dunga played down the advantage to Brazil and said replacements could bring unforeseen problems as they seek to make their mark.
“They will have players out injured but it is still Argentina,” he told reporters shortly before his team flew out to Buenos Aires.
“You lose a talented player but you get one that is maybe more focused, with more power and speed, and they can create problems. It’s Argentina, their players all play at the highest level in Europe.”
Dunga has an excellent record as coach against Argentina but the game has lost some intensity now that so many Latin American players are in Europe, he said.
“It used to be a war but now it is a competitive contest with professional mutual respect,” he said. “They all play together now. But they want to beat Brazil just like we want to beat Argentina.”