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Neymar now better than Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo - Brazil coach Dunga

Brazil coach Dunga said Neymar's performance has been better than that of Barcelona forward Lionel Messi and Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo, the two players who have shared the Ballon d'Or since 2008.

"If we look at the ranking by numbers and statistics, Neymar is superior right now," Dunga said during Wednesday's team news conference when asked to compare the 23-year-old with Messi and Ronaldo. "Messi is injured, Cristiano is expected to repeat what he did last year."

Dunga, whose team face Argentina on Thursday in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, pointed to Neymar's incremental improvement as the Barcelona forward returns to Brazil action after serving a four-match suspension for a sending-off during this summer's Copa America.

"Neymar has improved consistently since he arrived at Barcelona [in 2013],"
Dunga said. "He has done all that was expected of him with Messi out. He's in great form."

Neymar missed Brazil's first two World Cup qualifiers against Chile and Venezuela due to a ban for violent conduct after being sent off in Brazil's 1-0 loss against Colombia in the group phase of the Copa America earlier this year.

Without him Brazil lost 2-0 to Chile but beat Venezuela 3-1 at home and are in fifth place in the 10-team table, with the top four qualifying automatically for Russia 2018 and the fifth-placed side facing a playoff. Brazil play Argentina in Buenos Aires on Thursday and are at home to Peru on Nov. 18.

Argentina, who have one point from their opening two games and are seventh in the CONMEBOL table, host Thursday's fixture with injury woes as the front three

of Messi, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez are all sidelined.

Dunga said Argentina had a deep bench and played down any advantage Brazil might have.

"They will have players out injured but it is still Argentina," he said. "You lose a talented player but you get one that is maybe more focused, with more power and speed, and they can create problems. It's Argentina, their players all play at the highest level in Europe.
"We play Argentina at their home, they have great players, they were runners-up in the World Cup, they have 10 years' worth of work there. That shows how difficult this will be. We didn't have Neymar for our first matches and no one spoke about our rivals having an advantage over us. There is no favouritism. All of us have deep benches."

Dunga said that the level of play throughout Latin America has improved and there are no longer any easy teams.

"It used to be a war but now it is a competitive contest with professional mutual respect," he said. "They all play together now. But they want to beat Brazil just like we want to beat Argentina."
Sphamandla Ntshokotsha

Sphamandla Ntshokotsha

Staff writter

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