SALVADOR — Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari classed Neymar as a “genius” on Saturday and said his Brazil football side were pumped up and ready for Wednesday’s Confederations Cup semi-final.
“He is the hero of every Brazilian and of everyone who loves football,” Scolari said of the 21-year old striker after the hosts finished top of Group A with three wins from three following a 4-2 victory over second-placed Italy.
“He had some great moves today. People who have that genius can make a difference.”
Neymar won the man-of-the-match award and scored for the third game running as Brazil shone in a pulsating encounter.
Brazil pressured the Italians from the off and also scored through Dante and Fred, who netted twice.
But it was Neymar’s 55th minute free kick that caused the biggest roar in the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador.
“He saw that Buffon took a step to the side and he knew that he was going to hit it in the corner,” Scolari told reporters of a curling strike that left goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon rooted to the spot.
Scolari said he took the Barcelona man off because he had committed a few fouls and he wanted to be certain he would not pick up any cautions that could rule him out of future matches.
The coach also saluted defender Dante, the hometown boy who replaced David Luiz in the 34th minute, made a big mistake that almost gave Mario Balotelli a free shot at goal and then popped up inside the box just before halftime to put Brazil ahead.
“Dante plays in Bayern Munich and he’s been thrown into much harder situation that he was today when he came on,” Scolari said.
“I can’t say he is a first pick but I have no worries about bringing him on. I’ve told all the players in the squad, I have no worries about taking someone off because I can trust all of the substitutes.”
Although the win was Scolari’s fourth in a row, the coach said Brazil were still a work in progress ahead of a probable meeting with Uruguay.
“We are not ready for what we will face in the World Cup but we’re ready for the (Confederations Cup) semifinal,” said Scolari.
“We have good quality and our tactical game is quite well established.”
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli agreed with that assessment and rated Brazil, bizarrely ranked 22 in the Fifa rankings, one of the outstanding two teams of the tournament.
“I’ve seen Brazil grow,” said Prandelli, whose side will potentially face world champions Spain in the last four. Brazil play precise football and they have four players that attack and that is always decisive. And they are also the good at recovering the ball.
“Along with Spain they are the two strongest teams.”