Football: Neymar's journey only just beginning

Brazil forward Neymar and his team-mates training ahead of today's last-16 match against Mexico. The central American side are, however, no pushovers despite being underdogs, having won six of their 14 match-ups with the five-time world champions sin
Brazil forward Neymar and his team-mates training ahead of today's last-16 match against Mexico. The central American side are, however, no pushovers despite being underdogs, having won six of their 14 match-ups with the five-time world champions since 2000.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Captain Silva backs Brazil forward to emulate club-mates Mbappe & Cavani, who are on fire

ROUND OF 16

Brazil v Mexico

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SAMARA • As tournament organisers sweat on the possibility of another superstar bowing out of the World Cup today, Brazil captain Thiago Silva has faith that Neymar will follow in the footsteps of a different duo.

Two days after five-time Ballon d'Or winners Lionel Messi of Argentina and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo were sent packing, Silva backed Neymar to shine like Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani, their club-mates at Paris Saint-Germain.

France's Mbappe and Uruguayan Cavani each netted a brace in their last-16 clashes against Argentina and Portugal, and Silva hopes PSG's stars will continue to light up the World Cup.

"You may not believe it, but I was thinking exactly about that, and that Neymar will have his way in our match," the defender told a press conference ahead of Brazil's last-16 clash against Mexico in Samara. "PSG are well represented here."

Brazil head coach Tite admitted that Neymar has not been playing to his potential in Russia as he works his way back into form following his foot surgery in February.

But he hopes a deep run in the tournament will give the forward, scorer of one goal in the group stage, a chance to showcase his best football.

"Neymar played fantastically. He helped the wingers, helped to switch and to finish attacks. I don't know how he will play (against Mexico), but we... track all the data," Tite said. "His average performance (after three matches) exceeds his team-mates' performances, but this figure is still not high enough for Neymar.

"I hope he'll play all these matches (to the final) and reach his goal."

They will first have to get past Mexico, who have proven in recent years that they have what it takes to upstage the fancied Selecao.

Whereas seven of the teams in the knockout stages of the tournament have failed to record a single victory over Brazil since 2000 - admittedly Spain, Denmark and Belgium have only played the South American giants once each - Mexico have won six of their 14 match-ups with Brazil in the same time period.

Only France, who have beaten Brazil three times in six meetings, have a better record of the remaining teams in the last 16. More impressively, Mexico have won six of their last nine competitive fixtures against Brazil, losing just twice.

A Mexican side also overcame Brazil to win the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London, and Mexico held the hosts to a goal-less draw in the World Cup group stage four years ago.

Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio, however, has no intention of playing for a stalemate.

"We won't sit back and wait, Brazil's attackers are too good for that to be the right plan," he told a press conference yesterday.

"We will stick to our idea of having at least four or five attacking players."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2018, with the headline 'Neymar's journey only just beginning'. Print Edition | Subscribe