Neymar scored a brilliant hat-trick to give Santos a 3-1 victory over Sao Paulo in the semi-final of the Paulista Championship. The 20 year old wunderkid has now scored 102 goals for Santos, behind only Joao Paulo and Serginho Chulapa in the post-Pele era. Neymar recently surpassed Robinho’s achievement of 94 goals for Santos in March. In today’s match against Sao Paulo, Neymar opened his account with a penalty kick in the third minute. Roughly thirty minutes later, in trademark fashion, Ganso found Neymar and the Santos striker coolly slotted the ball home after beating Sao Paulo defender Paulo Miranda. Despite their lead, Santos struggled to take charge of the match and remained on the counter-attack as they conceded a goal to Willian Jose in the 63rd minute and then came close to allowing an equalizer from a spectacular Cicero free kick. But in the 77th minute, Neymar delivered a rocket of a long range shot that the keeper ended up parrying into his own net.
As Neymar grows in confidence, the football world will await with baited breath the verdict on his ability to beat European and African defenders in international competition. While Neymar has ample experience with highly physical matches in South American competition such as the Copa Libertadores, much of Brazil’s fortunes at this year’s Olympics will hinge on whether the Santos starlet can perform at the same level that he does for his club, for his country in London this summer.