Brazilian star Neymar will be huge in Miami during World Cup

Mural of Brazilian soccer star Neymar on corner of SW 1st Avenue and 8th Street in Miami on June 6, 2018. (C.M. Guerrero/Miami Herald/TNS)

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Mural of Brazilian soccer star Neymar on corner of SW 1st Avenue and 8th Street in Miami on June 6, 2018. (C.M. Guerrero/Miami Herald/TNS)

If you have been around the Brickell City Centre in downtown Miami the past few weeks, you have probably seen a gigantic mural of Brazilian soccer superstar Neymar on the corner of SW 8th Street and SW First Avenue.

There is an interesting story behind that 10,000-square-foot colorful piece of art.

It is the creation of New Orleans artist Brandan Odums, who was commissioned to paint three giant portraits of World Cup stars as part of Bleacher Report's #LargerThanLife campaign to get American sports fans pumped for the tournament, which opens in Moscow, Russia June 14 and runs through July 15.

The other two murals are of Egyptian star Mo Salah in New York City's Times Square, and French standout Paul Pogba in New Orleans.

Miami was chosen for the Neymar mural because of South Florida's large Brazilian and South American population and because Neymar loves Miami. In fact, the U.S. final of the 61-nation Neymar 5-on-5 tournament is being held this weekend at the Wynwood Marketplace. The winning team gets to go to Neymar's hometown of Santos, Brazil, later this summer to meet the Paris Saint Germain star and play in the international finals.

Odums admits he is more of a basketball and football fan but has become fascinated with the World Cup after researching the three players for the murals.

"Painting a portrait is a very intimate experience because you spend a lot of time starting at someone's face, so I dug deep to find out all I could about each player," Odums said. "I wanted to understand their personalities and backstories."

He used the colors of the Brazilian flag — green, yellow, blue — for Neymar's mural and paid particular attention to the soccer player's hair.

"Neymar's hair is such a part of his character, so I filled his hair with images of him playing, of the Brazilian flag, and of tropical flowers like the kinds you find in Brazil."

He sketched the portrait on paper and then projected it onto the building in mid-May. The project was complicated by the fact that it rained in Miami for two weeks in a row, so Odums could spray paint only during limited windows of time. It took him three days to finish.

Odums said he got a lot of positive feedback from passers-by who stopped to take photos. A group of German tourists reminded him that Germany beat Brazil 7-1 in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup. Miami's soccer knowledge was evident, he said, especially when he initially misspelled Neymar's name in the title that reads: "Neymar Jr. is #LargerThanLife"

"I was so tired, and I forgot the 'y' in Neymar, and all of a sudden people were yelling at me from sidewalks and cars, shouting, "You forgot the 'y'!" That was a funny moment."

Ryan O'Leary, a senior producer at Bleacher Report and the project leader on the murals, said he worked with the local Arts Council and the building chosen was perfect because of its location and 10,000-square-foot facade.

Fans who take photos of the mural and post it on social media with hashtag #LargerThanLife can win a chance to fly to New York for the June 20 Steve Nash Showdown, a celebrity soccer match between NBA and soccer stars hosted by former NBA great Steve Nash, who also was a talented soccer player.

Victor Borges, a 23-year-old Brazilian soccer player who lives in Boca Raton, saw the mural last week and loved it. He played for the Santos youth academy at the same time as Neymar, and though they were three years apart, Borges' team and Neymar's traveled to tournaments together.

Borges and five friends are finalists in this weekend's Neymar 5-on-5 tournament. Their team is called "Santos" and includes Eduardo Cruz, Silas Machado, Daniel Pena, and Jesus Castellano of West Palm Beach and Tomer Bitton of Boca Raton.

"I saw Neymar at a very young age, and we know by 11 that he'd be a star," Borges said. "It's pretty crazy that he's now one of the best in the world. I hope we win this weekend because I'd love to go back to Santos, where I lived until age 16, and play in front of my family and friends. Also, I would love to meet Neymar again after all these years."

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