Rio de Janeiro: Lionel Messi has praised the “enormous growth” of Barcelona teammate Neymar since 2011, when the pair were opponents in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.
The duo this week returned to the Asian nation for the current edition of the annual tournament, which the Catalan outfit are firm favourites to win, Xinhua reported.
“A lot of time has gone by since then and I’ve witnessed his enormous growth, both as a footballer and as a person,” Messi told FIFA.com on Tuesday.
Messi helped Barcelona defeat Santos 4-0 in the 2011 final, but he said that Neymar, then 19, showed during the tournament that he had rare talent.
“Back then he was already a really great player and now he’s even more so, he’s much more complete. Truthfully, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to have him alongside us now.”
Messi is expected to start for Luis Enrique’s team against China’s Guangzhou Evergrande in Thursday’s semifinal.
Neymar still recovering from a leg muscle injury is not expected to be available till Sunday’s final, should Barcelona progress.
The winner of the Barcelona-Guangzhou Evergrande clash will play off for the title against either River Plate or Sanfrecce Hiroshima.