World Cup: Neymar will start for Brazil

Brazil's Neymar (centre) is all smiles with team-mates Willian and Philippe Coutinho (right). There was cause for concern when he hobbled out of training on Tuesday.
Brazil's Neymar (centre) is all smiles with team-mates Willian and Philippe Coutinho (right). There was cause for concern when he hobbled out of training on Tuesday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Tite allays concern over star's fitness and will also stick with under-fire Jesus for crucial tie

GROUP E

Brazil v Costa Rica

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ST PETERSBURG • Neymar will play in Brazil's vital World Cup Group E match against Costa Rica today despite injury fears, while Gabriel Jesus will join him up front.

The two biggest questions surrounding the five-time champions' line-up were answered yesterday, when coach Tite confirmed he will start with the same side that drew 1-1 against Switzerland.

Neymar had the South Americans worried when he hobbled out of training on Tuesday. But he returned on Wednesday and Tite insisted he is not running a risk by throwing the forward straight back into the action.

"We want to win," said Tite. "It's a World Cup, but the coach is not going to play with the players' health."

Even before his latest injury scare, there were doubts over Neymar's match fitness after a broken bone in his foot ended his club season with Paris Saint-Germain in February. Neymar returned and scored in friendly wins against Croatia and Austria, but Tite admitted it could take up to five games for his star to be back to his best.

"He had a knock, but I think it was the first time in 3½ months he played 90 minutes," said Tite.

In their desperation for a breakthrough in the final stages against the Swiss, Brazil consistently looked to Neymar to provide the final finish or pass without success.

TEAM BEFORE SELF

Whenever the ball came to him, he slowed the game down, irrespective of whether it was the right thing to do or not. He might be the greatest player, but you have to think of the collective.

MARCEL DESAILLY, former France defender, on Neymar giving the impression that he wants to be the one to do something special.

The 26-year-old was criticised for being self-indulgent, often taking too many touches to try and beat Swiss right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner instead of moving the ball on quickly to team-mates.

"Whenever the ball came to him, he slowed the game down, irrespective of whether it was the right thing to do or not," former France defender Marcel Desailly wrote in The Guardian.

"Because he knows he has the talent to change games, you get the impression Neymar wants to be the one to do that something special.

"But he has to understand that it's not like that at international level. He might be the greatest player, but you have to think of the collective."

Jesus also failed to make a significant impact, leading to speculation that Roberto Firmino would start in place of the No. 9. Firmino came on as a substitute for Jesus in the 79th minute against the Swiss and almost scored with a late header.

But the 21-year-old Manchester City striker, who was painting his Sao Paulo neighbourhood green and yellow during the 2014 World Cup, will get another chance to apply some finishing touches.

Tite also strongly refuted reports that he asked Neymar to play more in the team's best interests.

"Absolutely not," Tite responded to a Brazilian journalist. "All of the players have this responsibility of playing for the collective (good) and being individuals.

"I'm not going to take away from him his genius in the last third of the pitch. That applies to (Philippe) Coutinho, (Gabriel) Jesus, Willian and (Roberto) Firmino too."

Brazil need to win to avoid a fourth World Cup match without a win, an unwanted streak that would equal their poorest such run recorded in 1974-1978.

Their opponents in St Petersburg are also desperate for points after they lost their opener to Serbia.

Quarter-finalists four years ago, Costa Rica have lost seven of their last nine matches and scored only five goals in the process.

"It is going to be a difficult game as are all games in the World Cup," said Coutinho. "They are a good team. We saw the game against Serbia, and it was only decided through a dead-ball situation."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2018, with the headline 'Neymar will start for Brazil'. Print Edition | Subscribe