Kurt Badenhausen – Forbes, 6/17/2014
Brazil was awarded the 2014 World Cup nearly seven years ago by FIFA. The pressure was immediately ramped up with the idea that the country with the tournament’s richest history would host the quadrennial event. Brazil has won a record five titles with two other Finals appearances, and it is the only country to appear in every World Cup since the event was founded in 1930. When Brazil was announced as the 2014 host, there was a then 15-year-old prodigy named Neymar, who was climbing the ranks of the youth academy of Brazilian club Santos , which produced legends like Pele, Pepe and Robinho.
When the World Cup kicked off last week, Neymar and Brazil were the stars of the show. The tournament began with a match between Brazil, who is the betting favorite to win the World Cup, and Croatia. The underdog took an early lead on an own-goal by Marcelo before Brazil roared back to win 3-1. It was only fitting that Neymar scored the first goal of the tournament for Brazil (he later added a second on a penalty kick). Neymar has been groomed as the face of the World Cup and Nike, Unilever, Volkswagen and Santander have all invested in the Barcelona star via endorsement deals.
Neymar’s fast start made his jersey the top-seller among soccer players on Fanatics.com, the largest online retailer of licensed sports merchandise. Fanatics looked at sales data for Forbes from U.S. customers covering the first four days of the tournament. Neymar’s jersey sales jumped 200% compared to the four days leading up to the start of the World Cup. Dutch captain Robin van Persie had the second most popular jersey on Fanatics. The Manchester United star had the goal of the tournament so far on a diving header in Netherlands’ dominating 5-1 win over reigning world champions Spain.