Neymar, Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho: Who are Brazil's greatest ever goalscorers?

  • Kobe Tong

Neymar made footballing history on Tuesday night during Brazil’s 4-2 win over Peru.

Playing for the Selecao is one of the most prestigious honours in the beautiful game with no nation having won the FIFA World Cup on more occasions, conquering the globe no less than five times.

That, in turn, means that some of the greatest players in history have donned the iconic yellow and green jersey from Pele to Ronaldinho, Garrincha to Roberto Carlos and Roberto Rivellino to Cafu.

Neymar makes history

And no matter what you think of the Paris Saint-Germain forward, you have to mention Neymar’s name amongst those greats now as he closes in on becoming Brazil’s all-time leading scorer.

That’s because the 28-year-old bagged a glorious hat-trick during the 2022 World Cup qualifier, overtaking Ronaldo Nazario to ensure only Pele has scored more goals for the legendary nation.

It seems inevitable now that Neymar will score the 14 goals necessary to move himself ahead of the icon himself and he could even become the greatest international scorer of all in the years to come.


Brazilian legends

However, it goes without saying that international football has changed so much over the decades both in terms of the frequency of games, fitness of players and quality of opponents.

As a result, here at GIVEMESPORT, we decided to look at Brazil’s greatest ever goal-scorers in a different light and took it upon ourselves to rank the top 10 by their goal-per-game ratios.

There’s a tie in tenth place, hence there’s 11 players and although we’re well aware that ranking strikers this way isn’t a perfect method, it adds an interesting new perspective on these legends.


Brazil’s greatest goal-scorers ranked

So, strap yourself in Neymar, it’s time to see where you truly rank in terms of lethality in front of goal when compared with the greatest goal-scorers to ever play for Brazil – check it out down below:

11. Ronaldinho – 0.34

Caps: 97

Goals: 33

The ultimate baller himself. All the credit in the world to Ronaldinho for reaching such a remarkable goal-scoring tally when he played far deeper than some of the out-and-out number nines here.

Then again, the Barcelona legend and Ballon d’Or winner did notch two hat-tricks during his Brazil career and who could forget that iconic free-kick against England at the 2002 World Cup?


10. Jairzinho – 0.41

Caps: 81

Goals: 33

Perhaps the most underrated part of the 1970 World Cup-winning Brazil side that could well be the greatest team ever assembled, running away 4-1 victors over Italy during an iconic final in Mexico.

And along the way to victory, Jairzinho earned the distinction of becoming the first and only player to have scored in every single game of a World Cup tournament, notching seven goals in six games.


9. Rivaldo – 0.47

Caps: 74

Goals: 35

The goals were raining in left, right and centre for Brazil when Rivaldo was at his Ballon d’Or-winning best, scoring no less than 21 goals for Selecao between 1998 and 2000 alone.

Although his efforts at the 1998 World Cup were ultimately futile to retain Brazil’s World Cup crown, the Barcelona hero played a crucial role alongside Ronaldo as they regained the title in 2002.


8. Bebeto – 0.52

Caps: 75

Goals: 39

It’s incredible that eight of the top ten averaged at least one goal every two games and in terms of Bebeto, none are more famous than the strike that inspired the famous ‘rocking baby’ celebration.

But to reduce one of Brazil’s greatest ever strikers to one key moment would be a mistake with Bebeto scoring six World Cup goals at the 1994 and 1998 finals as well as six Copa America strikes.


7. Tostao – 0.59

Caps: 54

Goals: 32

Goals were always going to come in tandem for Tostao when he partnered Pele in arguably the greatest Brazilian team of all time, but make no mistake that the Cruzerio hero was prolific in his own right.

While the World Cup winner may ‘only’ have smashed home three goals at the 1966 and 1970 finals, he proved prolific in qualifiers and struck back-to-back hat-tricks past Venezuela in 1969.


6. Neymar

Caps: 103

Goals: 64

Here he is, the man himself. Neymar might be on course to become Brazil’s top goal-scorer of all time, but it looks unlikely that he’ll top the rankings in terms of lethality, but that’s hardly a criticism.

What the PSG star has achieved by the age of 28 years old is nothing short of staggering, winning Olympic gold and the 2019 Copa America with his Peru treble proving his fourth in Brazil colours.


5. Ronaldo – 0.63

Caps: 98

Goals: 62

The great man. Ronaldo can at least find solace in the fact that, although Neymar has stolen his silver medal, he still has the superior goal-per-game ratio, albeit by the finest of margins.

Nevertheless, Neymar will struggle to overhaul Ronaldo’s status as the second greatest goalscorer in World Cup history with an insane 14 strikes, winning the Golden Boot on the way to 2002 glory.


4. Zico – 0.68

Caps: 71

Goals: 48

In terms of the greatest players of all time who have been forgotten more than they should be by the younger generation, myself included, the mercurial Zico himself would finish near the top of the list.

But let his impressive spot in these rankings show exactly the sort of legend he was and it will forever be gutting that Brazil’s astonishing 1982 side never won the World Cup they deserved.

3. Romario – 0.79

Caps: 70

Goals: 55

There’s no two ways about it, Romario is one of the greatest footballers of all time, securing the Golden Ball as Brazil won the 1994 World Cup and laying claim to over 1,000 career goals.

The iconic striker scored a mind-boggling 19 goals for Brazil in 1997 in just 17 caps, winning the Copa America in the process and comfortably has the highest ratio of a player from the modern era.


2. Ademir – 0.82

Caps: 39

Goals: 32

The oldest player on the list is most famous for romping his way to the Golden Boot at the 1950 World Cup, which infamously saw Brazil look the final to Uruguay in a near-national catastrophe.

That being said, 1950 was prolific across the board for Ademir as he smashed home 14 goals in just nine caps before the year was out, eventually running our number one as close as possible…


1. Pele – 0.84

Caps: 92

Goals: 77

The greatest Brazilian of all time. Pele burst on to the international scene with a World Cup semi-final hat-trick against France, before scoring a brace in the final and retaining the crown in 1962.

Then, just to complete the fairytale, Pele headed home the opener in the 1970 climax with an iconic celebration to boot as he wound down his Brazil career with an astonishing 77 goals in 92 caps.

Say what you like about the legitimacy of his goals for Santos, but you can’t dispute his quality when it came to playing in the biggest games of all and his ratio of 0.84 looks unlikely to ever be topped.


GIVEMESPORT’s Kobe Tong says

Neymar having more international fixtures available to him is both a blessing and a curse.

In this instance, the former Barcelona is hurt by way of being the only forward in the top 10 with 100 caps and that sees five players, many of which played years before him, finish higher in the list.

But the main takeaway from the statistics is that Pele’s international career was truly remarkable and certainly an area in which calls of ‘overrated’ border on downright harshness and ignorance.


Yes, the game was easier in Pele’s day, but he could only beat what was in front of him and his achievements for the Selecao arguably make him the greatest international footballer of all time.

To be scoring World Cup hat-tricks before your 20th birthday, conquering the world three times over and outscoring Ronaldo in fewer appearances, you’ve got to be considered in the GOAT debate.

So, yes, no matter how many goals Neymar goes on to score for Brazil and the best of luck to him in the process, I’m pretty sure Pele will forever be the number one in the hearts of his countrymen.

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