Ronaldo backs Neymar for next World Cup despite Brazil doubts

Brazil were eliminated in the World Cup quarter-finals by Croatia
Brazil were eliminated in the World Cup quarter-finals by Croatia / Zhizhao Wu/GettyImages

Ronaldo has insisted that Neymar still has a vital role to play for his country following Brazil's exit from the World Cup in Qatar.

The Selecao legend, who scored 62 goals in 98 caps and won two World Cups in 1994 and 2002, believes that Brazil's talisman will come back stronger in four years' time.

Searching for their sixth World Cup triumph, Brazil thought they had done enough to beat Croatia after a wonderful goal from Neymar in extra time of the quarter-final on Friday. A dramatic equaliser from Bruno Petkovic followed in the 117th minute before penalty heartbreak.

Neymar, shooting fifth for Brazil, didn't get to take his spot-kick after misses from Rodrygo and his PSG teammate Marquinhos. Croatia converted all four of their own penalties to reach the semi-finals.

Following the defeat, Neymar admitted he did not know whether he would play international football again - despite needing only one more goal to surpass Pele as Brazil's all-time top goalscorer.

"I think Neymar is very upset with the result of the World Cup for the Brazil national team," Ronaldo said.

Ronaldo Nazario
Ronaldo was the driving force behind Brazil's triumph in 2002 / Buda Mendes/GettyImages

"It's normal that he's feeling that way for now, but I'm also sure that he will come back stronger and continue playing with the national team."

Ronaldo also explained the sacrifice Neymar made during the tournament, citing his decision to continue playing in the knockout rounds despite an ankle sprain sustained in the second half of the first group game against Serbia.

"I'm very happy that he showed the world a commitment for the last six months, for the Brazil national team. He behaved himself. He took care of himself. And he played a good match, the first match. He got a very strong tackle on his ankle," he said.

"He made a huge sacrifice to play again for the national team. He played very good in the last match. I think he's very important for us. So I hope that [he] gets well soon and [comes] back strong in the football world with PSG and the Brazil national team."

The next World Cup in 2026 will be split between the USA, Canada and Mexico - with the majority of the 16 cities hosting the event in the United States. Beyond that, the tournament will also be expanded to 48 teams, meaning the current group stage format will be altered.

Neymar will be 34 by the time that tournament takes place but should take inspiration from the excellent performances of veterans such as Lionel Messi (35), Luka Modric (37) and Olivier Giroud (36) in Qatar.