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Neymar’s best friend: Felipe Anderson a focal point of Lazio’s resurgence

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]razilian footballing history is interspersed with some of the best players to ever play the beautiful game, with legendary figure Pelé the global pinnacle in many people’s eyes.

In the current day, Neymar has been elevated to idol status by those from the famous South American footballing nation, with the Barcelona forward the poster child for the next generation of samba stars.

Ironically, one of Brazil’s brightest prospects is Neymar’s former club team-mate and best friend – Lazio playmaker Felipe Anderson.

The 21-year-old is lighting up Serie A this term with his shows of skill and predatory goalscoring ability, with the Biancoceleste aiming for Champions League qualification and a return to previous successful times as a result.

Anderson rose through the ranks at Santos at the same time as Neymar was starring for the side, despite being two years his junior, and made his first-team debut for the Vila Belmiro outfit in 2010.

The precise attacker was part of the star-studded Santos squad that lifted the Copa Libertadores the following year, alongside rumbustious Porto pair Danilo and Alex Sandro, the mercurial talent of Ganso and former Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Elano.

Although Anderson played a modest role in the Brazilian side’s greatest modern moment in 2011, he featured heavily in the Santos first team the following season and starred alongside Neymar.

With that side ransacked by onlooking suitors, Neymar headed to Barcelona and Anderson was snatched up by Lazio for a fee in the €8 million region.

Last term, in his first campaign in European football, Anderson was not given ample opportunities to play and faced an adjustment process to adapt to the rigours of Italian football and life in Rome.

A total of just over 500 Serie A minutes in 2013-14 and only seven starts was a modest introduction to the European game, while his absence from the Lazio first team at the beginning of this season suggested a continuation of fringe status.

However, since being given more of a chance over the last six months by Stadio Olimpico boss Stefano Pioli, the South American star has come into his own.

Felipe AndersonAfter scoring his first goal for Lazio in December in an away win at Parma, Anderson has not looked back and now has eight strikes to his name.

Backed up by six assists and his breathtaking link-up play with Antonio Candreva and Miroslav Klose in the capital city side’s attack, Anderson looks like a player destined for greatness.

After representing Brazil at under-17 and 20 level in the past, the attacking midfielder got the opportunity to play for the under-21 team in 2014.

Although he was overlooked in Dunga’s most recent senior selection for the Seleção, there is a train of thought that Anderson is ready to represent his nation alongside former team-mate Neymar.

The likes of in-form pairing Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho have been preferred in the national selector’s thinking, but if Anderson continues his current breathtaking form it will only be a matter of time before Dunga is forced to include him.

Such is Anderson’s calibre and importance to Lazio, the Italian club recently released a statement on social media hitting back at claims that the side were over-reliant on their Brazilian prodigy.

However, recognising his potential to develop further and lead the club back amongst Italian football’s elite, Anderson yesterday penned a new contract in the nation’s capital to keep him with Pioli’s men until 2020.

The Biancoceleste sit in third place in the domestic standings, with their faltering cross-city rivals Roma only a point ahead in second.

As such, Champions League football is the aim for Lazio, who have been buoyed by the incredible exploits of their star player this season.

Although getting to the level of friend Neymar will require Anderson to evolve dramatically further, this Brazilian sensation looks set to be a star for club and country going forward.

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