SOCHI : Brazil attracted an army of excited youngsters -- including one who managed to get onto the pitch for a selfie — as they held their first training session on Russian soil ahead of the World Cup on Tuesday.
Around 5,000 locals turned out to watch the relaxed session at the Yug-Sport Stadium, next to the Brazilian squad’s hotel in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.
Tuesday is a national holiday in Russia and many fans opted for vantage points along the road leading to the stadium, while others filled the stand in blazing sunshine.
One young boy broke through security barriers and managed to get close to a group of Brazil players including Neymar, taking a photograph before being led away.
However, most fans contented themselves with chanting the name of the world’s most expensive player, who arrived with his teammates in Russia in the early hours of Monday fresh from scoring in a 3-0 friendly win over Austria in Vienna.
The 222-million-euro ($261 million) Paris Saint-Germain forward made his first start in that game since undergoing surgery on a foot fracture at the start of March. He had come off the bench to score in the win over Croatia in Liverpool a week earlier.
“Neymar is doing great, thanks to God. I think the way the whole process has been dealt with was perfect. He has fully recovered,” goalkeeper Alisson told reporters.
“It’s logical that, at first, when he started kicking the ball again, he felt the need to take extra care of himself.
“He has had to deal with the fear, which is normal after a serious injury, but step by step he has built up his confidence.” Members of the Selecao had a treat in store for Philippe Coutinho at training, marking the Barcelona midfielder’s 26th birthday by pinning him to the ground, breaking an egg over his head and covering him in flour.
Those who started the final pre-World Cup warm-up against Austria spent most of Tuesday’s session apart from the rest of Tite’s squad, while Manchester United-bound midfielder Fred was not involved as he continues to nurse an ankle injury.
Eager to put their humiliation on home soil in 2014 firmly behind them, the Brazilians appear confident and at ease in surroundings which in this lush part of Russia are not completely unlike home.
“Our first impressions are positive, with the beauty of the city and the beach, and to be able to have lunch with views looking out over the sea,” added Alisson.
Brazil play their opening game at the tournament on Sunday, when they take on Switzerland in Rostov-on-Don. They will also come up against Costa Rica and Serbia in Group ‘E’.
Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2018