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Brazil thrash Bolivia 5-1 in Neymar’s historic appearance

BELEM – Neymar was grateful after surpassing the late Pele as Brazil’s top scorer on Friday, as the Selecao lived up to expectations by smashing Bolivia 5-1 at home in the opener of their 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

The 31-year-old forward, who recently joined Saudi side Al-Hilal, bounced back after missing a penalty in the first half, scoring two goals in the 61st and 93rd minute to become the country’s all-time top scorer with 79 goals.

“Congratulations Neymar for surpassing the king in goals for Brazil. Surely Pele is applauding you today!” was written on Pele’s official account on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

Pele, who died in December aged 82, scored 77 goals for Brazil in 92 appearances between 1957 and 1971.

“I’m very happy, lost for words,” news outlet Globo Esporte quoted Neymar as saying.

“I never imagined reaching this record and I want to say that passing Pele does not mean that I am better than him. I always wanted to write my name in the history of Brazilian football. Today I did that. I am very grateful.”

The win was the perfect start for new coach Fernando Diniz, who took over from predecessor Tite in the wake of Brazil’s 2022 World Cup quarter-final exit in Qatar.

Diniz also paid tribute to Neymar, whose role in the squad has been under scrutiny.

“Many did not know what he would come to do, and he came to do what he did – have fun, score two goals and break the record,” he said.

“He is a very big idol, people must recognise him and accept him.”

Real Madrid’s Rodrygo also shone with a double, opening the scoring in the 24th minute and bagging his second in the 53rd off a great through ball from Newcastle United’s Bruno Guimaraes for 3-0.

“It really is a very special day… Neymar is my idol, being able to help him become the top scorer will stay with me forever,” the 22-year-old Rodrygo told Brazilian broadcaster TV Globo.

Raphinha, who replaced Antony in the Brazilian squad, scored to make it 2-0 in the opening seconds of the second half with a shot at the far post after picking up Neymar’s pass at the edge of the box.

Bolivia got their consolation goal through Victor Abrego’s powerful shot in the 78th minute.

The Brazilians will look to continue their good form when they visit Peru on Tuesday.

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Elsewhere, Uruguay also started their qualifying campaign on the right foot by beating Chile 3-1 at home to hand former Leeds United coach Marcelo Bielsa his first official win at the helm.

A Nicolas de la Cruz brace and a Federico Valverde goal ensured all three points were clinched.

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