Luiz Felipe Scolari has hailed Neymar’s progress in becoming one of the world’s best players in recent seasons – but he does not believe Barcelona will suffer in his absence.
The European champions begin their Club World Cup campaign against Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao on Thursday amid concerns over the Brazil international’s fitness due to a groin injury.
Scolari has hailed his compatriot’s performance level in recent months but has warned that the quality at Barca’s disposal – and particularly that of Lionel Messi – will allow them to cope without the 23-year-old.
“Neymar is one of the three best players in the world and he has been progressing for the last five years,” said the Guangzhou boss. “His absence would affect any team aside from Barcelona, who have 25 players of a similar style.
“Messi is always one of the three best players in the world. He plays in a position in which you have to mark not just him but also the entire team, because he makes the team play.
“Barcelona have many good players, like [Luis] Suarez or [Andres] Iniesta. You have to keep an eye on all of them.”
Guangzhou defeated America in dramatic style to clinch their semi-final spot with Barca but Scolari insists his side are not in Japan simply to make up the numbers.
“We’re getting better every day. We improve day by day and that’s thanks to my players,” he said. “We know our qualities and those of Barcelona, who are one of the best teams in the world. My players are very motivated, they’ll play a good game.
“We’re the champions of Asia and we knocked out America, the CONCACAF champions. We’ve won the right to be here. I respect Barca a lot but I have confidence in my team.”
The former Brazil head coach also revealed he had the chance to join Barcelona in the past, but was unwilling to renege on his contract with the Portugal national team.
“When my friend Sandro Rosell was president I was able to speak with him and to accept an offer from Barca, but I still had two years left with Portugal. I like Barca on and off the pitch, but that was some time ago,” he said.