Pele congratulated Neymar on matching his long-standing goalscoring record for Brazil and urged the forward “to keep inspiring us” amid questions over his international future.
Neymar scored his 77th senior goal for Brazil midway through extra time to open the scoring in Friday’s World Cup quarter-final with Croatia at the Education City Stadium.
However, Bruno Petkovic equalized in the 117th minute and Croatia stunned Brazil 4-2 on penalties to advance to the semi-finals, where they now face Argentina on Tuesday.
Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar hinted after the game that he may have played his last game for the Selecao, although he will refrain from making an official decision.
In a bittersweet occasion for the 30-year-old, Pele – who has been hospitalized with a respiratory infection – took to social media to greet his compatriot.
“I’ve seen you grow, I’ve been rooting for you every day and I can finally congratulate you for equaling my goal tally with the Brazilian national team,” Pele wrote on Instagram.
“We both know it’s much more than just a number. Our biggest responsibility as athletes is to inspire.”
“To inspire our professional colleagues today, the next generation and above all to inspire everyone who likes our sport.
“Unfortunately, this is not the happiest day for us, but you will always be the source of inspiration that many aspire to be.
“I find that the more time passes, the more our legacy grows. My record was set almost 50 years ago and no one has been able to come close to it.
“You did it, boy. That magnifies the magnitude of your achievement. But you know as well as I do that no number is greater than the joy of representing our country.”
“I’m 82 years old and after all this time I hope I’ve inspired you in some way to get this far.
“More than that, I hope your success spreads to the millions of people who follow you to take on the seemingly impossible.
“Your legacy is far from over. Keep inspiring us. I will continue to fill the air with happiness every time I score, as I have done in every game I have seen you play.”
Neymar is only the second Brazil player to score in extra time at a World Cup since Leonidas against Poland in the last 16 in 1938.
However, Brazil became the first team in the history of the tournament to be knocked out of a knockout match in which they scored the opening goal during extra time.
It means the Selecao’s wait for a record-extending sixth world crown will stretch to at least 24 years until the 2026 edition.
Speaking about his future after missing a penalty in the shoot-out defeat to Croatia, Neymar said: “The feeling is really bad.
“Today is worse than what happened in the past. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find words to describe this moment. We tried, we fought and I’m proud of all my teammates.”
“I’m proud of their personality, of accepting the punishment, of their character, because it’s not easy to take that responsibility.”
Neymar played 124 matches in Brazil, while Pele achieved his goals in 92 matches.
Brazil have been knocked out in four of their last five World Cup quarter-finals and in each of their last six knockout matches against European nations.