Neymar appointed Brazil captain, says if focused 'our team is the best'

SAO PAULO -- In his first press conference as a Brazil player in more than 240 days, striker Neymar was not shy on Monday. The Barcelona star said he believes he is in the top moment of his career, and that he plays for the best national team in the world.

The 25-year-old, who will serve as Brazil's captain for the first time under manager Tite on Tuesday against Paraguay, also admitted he had to mature after a series of controversies on and off the pitch and promised Brazil would be one of the favourites in the next World Cup in Russia.

"There was never a dependency on Neymar. This is Brazil. If focused, our team is the best," Neymar told journalists before the CONMEBOL leader's World Cup qualifying match against seventh-placed Paraguayans on Tuesday.

"We know this, we are humble enough to respect our adversaries, we have to play. Sometimes one part or the other didn't fit. But coach Tite arrived and made adjustments. We are playing football. The players are not so different -- it is the way of playing. Now everyone turns up."

But Neymar also accepted he had to change to get to the current level of play.

"We only learn when we get hurt or do something wrong. I already argued unnecessarily. I got yellow and red cards, harmed myself, harmed my teammates. But time makes us more mature.

"Nowadays I only think about playing football, I am better in every aspect," Neymar said.

"Everyone needs time to get their heads straight so things calm down. I had my moment of being a little more silent, but now I am speaking again."

Neymar added, despite feeling he's at his best, he doesn't invite comparisons between him and Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, who are considered the two best players in the world.

"This is one thing that I don't feel comfortable to talking about. I really don't like it," he said.

"They [Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi] are two great players that in the last 10 years maintain the high level. They are two great players that I admire a lot and one of them I work with him at my side every day.

"He [Messi] is the best player that I've ever played and I've been learning from him. I don't know if it is or isn't the right time, I just know that I want to be better than myself every day.

"Yesterday I went well and today I want to be even better and so on. I want to overcome myself every day and I do not want to be better than anyone, I just want to get better and better."

Neymar has been tipped to break the stranglehold the two La Liga stars have had on the Ballon d'Or award since 2008. And he revealed Barca teammate Messi has given him some advice.

"When the Ballon d'Or gets to you, do everything calmly. Everything is going to fall into place. Play how you play. Do what you know how to do, and then everything will turn out okay," Neymar added.

"When Messi told me this, it was something that made me feel good. Because you have this fear to speak about it with your idol, and to speak to a guy that you admire, and when he lets you feel free, it relaxes you a bit. You feel like yourself on the pitch and during training. And this is what happened to me.

"We have a great relationship. We're friends. And this helps a lot on the pitch when you have love for each other, to help each other, to make a pass, when he scores a goal. So we are really happy. It's not just him, it's [Luis] Suarez as well who is a great player, a legend, so we get on really well there.

"One helps the other in all moments. And I'm really happy with the moment that I'm living, that's the best moment in my career, in my opinion, physically, in everything. Not just in numbers themselves, in playing football. I'm really happy that I'm maintaining all these games and playing really well and I'm helping my teammates, which is the most important."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.