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Neymar Jr personally welcomed the Brazilian winners of his signature global football tournament, Neymar Jr's Five, to Barcelona this weekend – and then spoke of his hope of featuring on an all-Barça shortlist for the Best FIFA Men's Player award alongside his team mates Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez.
Neymar Jr met the seven players of the 'Anjos da Bola' ('Angels of the Ball') team, all aged between 20 and 22, at the FC Barcelona training ground in what was the highlight of their prize for outplaying all comers in the Neymar Jr's Five World Final at the Instituto Projeto #neymarjr in Praia Grande, Brazil this July.
For most of the childhood friends from the Rio de Janeiro favelas it was a first trip outside Brazil. They established an immediate rapport with #neymarjr, who clearly enjoyed spending time with young men who brought a real Brazilian flavour with them on the trip, playing games of kickabout in the streets of Barcelona and even dyeing their hair blond.
It was an experience none of the seven could quite believe as they laughed and joked in the dressing room with their hero, on the weekend of FC Barcelona's game against Malaga at the Nou Camp. "For a few days, we're all living the dream," said team captain Gabriel Ferreira Silva. "All of us grew up hoping to be professional footballers one day and we never stop training and never stop dreaming. On this trip, we've discovered what it's like in reality."
Neymar Jr, now 24, famously got his own bleached blond look after winning the Olympic gold medal with Brazil in the Rio Olympics this year so it felt appropriate for the Anjos da Bola team – world champions in Neymar Jr's Five – to celebrate by dyeing their own hair to match.
After his heroics for Brazil in the country's home Olympics, #neymarjr is waiting to see if he makes the final list of three for the Best FIFA Men's Player award for the second year in succession, after voting closed on November 22. Whether he makes it or not, the star forward is clear about the other names he feels should be on the list.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Messi and Suárez should be among the final three for the Best FIFA Men's Player award and of course I'd love to be there again as well, after featuring last year," #neymarjr said. "It would be perfect to have an all-Barcelona shortlist."
Neymar Jr's Five is the Brazilian's signature tournament. The inaugural edition this year became a global phenomenon, with more than 65,000 #people taking part across six continents and 47 countries. The five-a-side games last 10 minutes and feature a unique twist, as every time one team scores, the opposition loses a player.
All of the Anjos team grew up in the Complexo do Alemão favelas in. They got a taste of instant fame after their dressing room meeting with #neymarjr, when the Barcelona man posted pictures on Snapchat and Instagram – leading to an immediate flurry of likes, follows and friend requests for the seven guys from Rio.
"Meeting the winners was amazing!" said #neymarjr. "Besides playing football very well, the guys are very nice to talk to. The only thing I missed was a great match to celebrate our meeting, but I didn't have my full team with me."
They earned their unforgettable trip by proving to have the best combination of technique and tactics in the 2016 Neymar Jr's Five World Final. Their team was made up of Gabriel Ferreira Silva, Leandro Vianna Gomes, Leonardo Nunes, Leonardo Santos Mendes, Lucas Nascimento, Lucas Colette and Romário de Araújo.
The first qualifiers for the 2017 edition of Neymar Jr's Five will open up in December, when a full announcement will be made about the new season.
For now, players around the world will be dreaming of following in the footsteps of these 'Angels of the Ball'.
Neymar Jr will find out on December 2 if his strike against Villarreal will be voted onto the final shortlist of three for the best goal of 2016. Having won the award in 2011, his over-the-shoulder volley in the 3-0 victory faces competition from nine other wonder strikes to make the top three finalists. You can vote here.
About Instituto Projeto Neymar Jr
The Instituto Projeto #neymarjr (INJr), a private and non-profit association dedicated to social causes, is an educational & sports complex at Jardim Gloria, Praia Grande, which assists 2.470 children in need, aged from 7 to 14 years old and their families. Currently, 10 thousand #people are impacted by the work done there.
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