Brazil is looking forward to seeing the best in Neymar at the World Cup
DOHA: Brazil are hoping a fully fit Neymar sack and a balanced line-up around him will allow the five-time winners to live up to their potential as World Cup favorites in Qatar.
They kick off their bid for a record-extending sixth title on Thursday when they take on a dangerous Serbia – and the world’s most expensive player to enter the tournament in ominous form.
In 2014, the World Cup ended for Neymar in agony as he fractured a bone in his back in the quarter-final victory over Colombia before the hosts suffered the humiliation of Germany in the semi-finals, losing 7-1.
Four years later, Neymar raced to recover from injury in time for the tournament in Russia, but Brazil fell short of reaching the expected heights before losing to Belgium in the quarter-finals. This time around, 30-year-old Neymar is fresh off a stellar start to the season with Paris Saint-Germain where he scored 15 goals in 20 appearances.
“I think Neymar is going into this tournament in great shape,” veteran Brazil captain Thiago Silva, who now plays for Chelsea but is a former teammate of Neymar’s in Paris, told reporters on Wednesday.
“His preparation this time was different. In 2014 he was injured and he was playing very well, and in 2018 he entered the tournament in a different way because he had a serious injury so he didn’t play much.
This time is different and he was not hurt. Neymar is much better prepared.”
With Brazil also facing Switzerland and Cameroon in Group G, Neymar will be hoping to score the two goals he needs to equal Pele’s record tally of 77 goals with the Seleco.
But it’s not all responsibility in attack – coach Tite can also call on a host of other exciting attackers, including Real Madrid duo Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo.
“In my opinion, these players will help Neymar because they can divide the responsibility and create space for him,” added Silva, who was captain of the team in 2014 and is still going strong at the age of 38. In their opening match while Germany was also beaten.
But Brazil are hoping to make a strong start and repeat what happened in the only other World Cup to be held in Asia, when they won their last title in Japan two decades ago. “The atmosphere in the team is very healthy. The mix of young and more experienced players creates a great connection,” said Silva.
“We have players who are used to pressure, who are used to the pressure of big matches in the Champions League like Viene and Rodrygo, who are among the youngest in the squad but have already shown they can make the big decisions.”