Neymar 'at 80%' ahead of World Cup

Brazil's Neymar is all poise and focus during the friendly against Croatia at Anfield on Sunday. He scored the opening goal in his side's 2-0 victory after coming on as a substitute, more than three months since injuring his right ankle in February.
Brazil's Neymar is all poise and focus during the friendly against Croatia at Anfield on Sunday. He scored the opening goal in his side's 2-0 victory after coming on as a substitute, more than three months since injuring his right ankle in February.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON • Brazil star Neymar revealed that he was operating at only "80 per cent" when he made a goal-scoring comeback in a 2-0 friendly victory over Croatia on Sunday.

The forward appeared as a half-time substitute for Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho and needed just 23 minutes at Liverpool's Anfield ground to prove how important he is to Brazil's hopes of winning a sixth World Cup title.

Receiving a pass from Philippe Coutinho, Neymar cut into the area, beating Sime Vrsaljko and Duje Caleta-Car with impressive close control and dribbling, before burying a shot into the roof of the goal, via the crossbar, from the edge of the six-yard area.

"I still feel a little pain, but that's normal when you spend so much time not walking," said Neymar after his first match in 98 days. "I feel at 80 per cent of my capacity."

His efforts left Brazil manager Tite stunned.

"For the first match back, I actually expected less from him. I would have been happy with a quieter performance," said Tite, who has led Brazil to 16 victories in 20 games in charge. "What he did was really extraordinary.

"Neymar is an extraordinary individual talent but the goal he scored came from a move, a build-up, involving the whole team."

Brazil face Austria in Vienna in their final friendly on Sunday.

But Brazil midfielder Fred, a substitute against Croatia, is understood to have made the short trip from Merseyside to Manchester for a medical examination before completing the signing for the Red Devils.

According to various media reports, Manchester United are expected to announce the €55 million (S$85.9 million) transfer from Shakhtar Donetsk this week.

Neymar has also been linked with the Old Trafford club and Real Madrid.

Croatia's Luka Modric took the opportunity to urge the world's most expensive player to join him at Real after swopping shirts with him on Sunday.

Neymar, who joined Paris Saint-Germain in a €222 million move from Barcelona, was filmed exchanging and signing shirts with Modric after the game and the video was broadcast on Twitter by the Brazilian football federation.

Modric was seen saying to Neymar, "We're waiting for you", prompting him to laugh and smile.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2018, with the headline 'Neymar 'at 80%' ahead of World Cup'. Print Edition | Subscribe