SAO PAULO (AP) — Neymar eclipsed Pelé as the top goal scorer for Brazil’s national team after overtaking the three-time World Cup winner’s career total on Friday.
The goal that put the 31-year-old Neymar on the top of Brazil’s scoring record with 78 came in the 61st minute in a World Cup qualifying match against Bolivia in the Amazon city of Belém.
It was Brazil’s fourth goal of the match in a 5-1 win, with the last goal of the game also being scored by Neymar — his 79th — during injury time.
Neymar’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 Pelé usually did.
“I am very happy, no words for this,” Neymar said in brief comments to media after he was handed a plaque by the president of the Brazilian soccer confederation, Ednaldo Rodrigues. “I never thought I would reach this record.”
Earlier, the Al-Hilal striker missed a penalty in the 17th minute, which goalkeeper Billy Viscarra saved. Neymar’s second goal in the match came in similar fashion near the final whistle, with another low cross by Raphinha.
Brazil’s soccer confederation considers Pelé as its top goal scorer with 95 goals in 114 matches. FIFA does not count goals that Pelé had at national team friendlies against clubs.
“78 times Neymar,” the Brazilian soccer body said on social media after Neymar’s record-breaking goal. “Neymar scores the fifth for the Selecao,” it said after the striker’s second goal against Bolivia.
Rodrigues, the president of Brazil’s soccer body, reiterated Neymar had become “the all-time top goal-scorer for Brazil in matches against national teams.”
Pelé’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 Pelé is applauding you today!”
Pelé died from cancer on Dec. 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 (Pelé) 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.”
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 recognize 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.”