Al Hilal’s Neymar scored his 78th and 79th goals for Brazil in a 5-1 World Cup qualifying demolition of Bolivia.
Neymar has eclipsed Pele as the top goal scorer for Brazil’s national team after overtaking the three-time World Cup winner’s career total of 77 against national teams with a goal in a World Cup qualifying match against Bolivia.
The 61st-minute strike was Brazil’s fourth goal of the match in a 5-1 win in the Amazon city of Belem, with the last goal of the game also being scored by Neymar – his 79th – during injury time.
The 31-year-old’s record-breaking goal came after a low cross into the penalty box, which the striker finished with accuracy from close range. He celebrated with a punch in the air, as Pele usually did.
“I am very happy, no words for this,” Neymar said in brief comments to the media after he was handed a plaque by the president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, Ednaldo Rodrigues. “I never thought I would reach this record.”
Earlier, the striker – who plays for Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal – missed a penalty in the 17th minute, which goalkeeper Billy Viscarra saved.
Neymar’s second goal in the match came in a similar fashion near the final whistle, with another low cross by Raphinha.
Brazil’s football confederation considers Pele as its top goal scorer with 95 goals in 114 matches. FIFA does not count goals that Pele scored at national team friendlies against clubs.
“78 times Neymar,” the Brazilian football body said on social media after Neymar’s record-breaking goal.
Rodrigues reiterated Neymar had become “the all-time top goal-scorer for Brazil in matches against national teams”.
Pele’s Foundation, however, acknowledged Neymar’s achievement.
“Congratulations, Neymar Jr, for surpassing the King in goals for the Brazilian National Team in official FIFA matches,” it said on social media. “Surely Pele is applauding you today!”
Pele died from cancer on December 29 in Sao Paulo at the age of 82.
“I want to say that this [the record] doesn’t mean I am better than him [Pele] or than any national team player,” Neymar added in his short statement. “I always wanted to write my story in the national team, and today I did that.”
Real Madrid’s Rodrygo also shone against Bolivia with a double, opening the scoring in the 24th minute and bagging his second in the 52nd off a great through ball from Newcastle United’s Bruno Guimaraes for 3-0.
“It really is a very special day … Neymar is my idol, being able to help him become the top scorer will stay with me forever,” the 22-year-old Rodrygo told Brazilian broadcaster TV Globo.
Neymar’s most recent match for Brazil before the victory over Bolivia was the World Cup quarterfinal loss last year to Croatia. He left Qatar with doubts about his future in the national team and did not play the Selecao’s first three games this year.
New Brazil coach Fernando Diniz said Neymar came to play for Brazil “to score goals, break records, show that he is very much willing to live this [the national team]”.
“He is a great hero,” Diniz said. “People have to recognise it and accept it. He doesn’t do anything to get this adoration he gets from the crowd. It is because of the natural talent he has.”