'Sick' Neymar falls foul of Brazil fans

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When Pele declared the Neymar the best player in the world, a gargantuan amount of pressure was placed upon the young man's shoulders, and the Brazilian is showing the first signs that he is struggling to cope with expectation.

Aged only 20, Neymar is just at the beginning of what will surely be a fine career, but the forward is already feeling the strain of having each event along the way scrutinised to the most minute detail.

Neymar's reputation in Brazil was tainted slightly when he failed to inspire them to the Olympic gold medal they so crave, and his fledgling career reached its nadir on Friday when Selecao supporters vented their frustrations at the Santos star.

After an insipid performance against South Africa in Sao Paulo, Neymar was substituted by Mano Menezes in the closing stages, and the home crowd made sure to let the former know exactly how they felt about his display.

As Neymar trudged from the field, head lowered in disappointment, the Santos star was booed and jeered by spectators - something both unexpected and, perhaps, undeserved.

Post-match, Neymar allowed his exterior to crack as he pleaded for sympathy, given how draining the past few months have been.

"I felt sick because of what happened against South Africa. I am not a machine," he told Globo Esporte.

"I was exhausted after Friday's match, both physically and mentally.

"I just want to keep on playing and help Santos and the national team."

The problem for Neymar, however, is that expectation will not abate any time soon, but steadily increase as Brazil continue on the path to the 2014 World Cup, which will take place on home soil for the first time in 64 years.

Neymar remains his the current team's most highly-valued commodity and will be to Brazil 2014 what Usain Bolt and Jessica Ennis were to London 2012, unable to escape the spotlight for a single moment.

Making millions in endorsements and seeing his star rise into the stratosphere on the way to the World Cup are not aspects which deserve sympathy, but some believe he does deserve to be treated with greater respect.

Barcelona's Dani Alves has outlined the need to protect Neymar as the countdown to 2014 continues, and has stressed that the striker must be held in adulation rather than contempt.

"I have nothing against the fans of Sao Paulo. I meant only that our best player [Neymar], our franchise player, our player that can make the difference, needs to be handled with care," Alves told Copa Do Mundo.

"Supporters have every right to complain, but they need to understand that our best player has to be treated with more care.

"It's a very young group that has had to deal with too much pressure. As one more experienced, I have to act to protect them...[Fans] have to cheer them instead of criticising them."

Neymar's career is headed in only one direction and an inevitable move to Europe will only serve to further raise his profile. And it is now down to him to prove he is worthy of the adulation, and win back an increasinginly disenchanted public.

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