Neymar breaks Pele record to become Brazil’s record goalscorer – but FIFA, Brazil numbers differ

Neymar has overtaken Brazil legend Pele as the nation’s greatest goalscorer after netting in a World Cup qualifier against Bolivia.

The forward, who this summer swapped Paris Saint-Germain for Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia, scored just after the hour-mark in Belem to take his Brazil tally to 78 goals. He added a second in stoppage time at the end as the hosts ran out 5-1 winners.

The brace took him clear of the three-time World Cup winner Pele’s 77 goals for the Selecao.

That is according to FIFA figures — but the milestone is actually disputed in a certain quarter.

The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) is not in agreement with the game’s global governing body and believes Neymar has a lot further to go to break his idol’s record.

Pele’s tally at international level — according to himself and the CBF — incorporated 95 goals for his country in 113 games.


Neymar, record breaker: one of football’s true greats

Why is there a difference between FIFA’s records and the CBF?

The two governing bodies clearly don’t agree on what constitutes an international match.

FIFA’s data — for caps and goals — considers matches between two separate nations.

For example, a friendly between Brazil and England would count towards their statistics. Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard’s goals against Brazil in February 2013 count towards the Three Lions’ goalscoring charts.

Where the discrepancy occurs is in the games played by international teams in the 20th century against club sides. In the 1960s and 70s, the likes of Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid played against Brazil — which is where the extra appearances and goals came from.

As he did in every type of match, Pele had a brilliant goalscoring record in these games: 18 goals in 22 matches. That elevates his Brazil record from 77 in 91 — including 12 goals in 14 games at World Cups — to 95 in 113.

Neymar has also scored more goals in the famous yellow shirt than the official FIFA statistics suggest. During the Olympic Games of 2012 and 2016, he made 14 appearances for Brazil, scoring eight goals and picking up a gold medal.

Football teams at the Olympics have to be made up of players under the age of 23 with three overage players allowed in each squad. Because of that, the competition is viewed as an Under-23 tournament by FIFA, so statistics are separated.

Neymar equalled Pele’s FIFA record against Croatia at the World Cup in Qatar last year.

He paid tribute at the tournament to the iconic forward, who died several weeks later on December 29, 2022 at the age of 82.

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Neymar celebrates after scoring against Bolivia (Carl de Souza/AFP via Getty Images)

‘I never thought I would reach this record’

Speaking after scoring against Bolivia, Neymar said: “I am very happy — (I have) no words for this. I never thought I would reach this record.”

In a short statement later, he added: “I want to say that this (the record) doesn’t mean I am better than him (Pele) or than any national team player. I always wanted to write my story in the national team, and today I did that.”

The striker was handed a plaque by the president of the Brazilian soccer confederation, Ednaldo Rodrigues.

Rodrigues reiterated Neymar had become “the all-time top goal-scorer for Brazil in matches against national teams.”

Pele’s Foundation 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!”

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.”

Neymar made his senior debut for Brazil aged 18 in 2010 and scored during a friendly against the United States. 

The 31-year-old scored his first international hat-trick in 2012 during a 8-0 victory over China. 

He won a gold medal in the 2016 Olympic games in Rio as Brazil defeated Germany on penalties following a 1-1 draw. Neymar scored his side’s goal in normal time and the winning spot kick. 

In 2021, he reached the final of Copa America, but his side were defeated 1-0 by Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the final. 

He has been capped 125 times for his country. 

(Photo: Getty Images)

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