DOHA: Brazil forward Neymar is set to play for the five-times champions in their World Cup last-16 match against South Korea on Monday after recovering from an ankle injury, coach Tite said.
Neymar suffered the injury in Brazil’s opening 2-0 win over Serbia, which ruled him out of their 1-0 win over Switzerland and the shock defeat by Cameroon, one of a series of injury problems within the squad.
Full-back Danilo was also cleared by the medical staff for the game against South Korea.
“Neymar will train today in the afternoon and if he trains well he will play,” Tite told a news conference.
Neymar has suffered many issues with his right foot and underwent surgery four years ago for a fractured metatarsal.
The news of his return to the starting lineup came after Thiago Silva was asked during a news conference if Neymar would play and Tite took hold of the microphone and said “yes”.
It will be warmly welcomed in a squad beset by fitness woes with Danilo also hurting his ankle against Serbia and Alex Sandro suffering a hip injury against the Swiss.
Alex Telles and forward Gabriel Jesus, who sustained a knee injury against Cameroon, were ruled out for the rest of the tournament on Saturday.
Tite said Danilo was also fit to return against South Korea on Monday but Sandro was out.
“He still can’t play. Still recovering. Danilo and Neymar are back,” he said.
Tite stressed that Neymar’s return was with the full backing of the team’s medical staff and the player’s physical health was the priority.
“If he plays, it’s because he is in full health and ready to start, to play from the beginning and the entire game with no limitations,” Tite said. “My preference is always to play my best players from the start.”
With Neymar back, Tite said there will be no changes in the forward line from the team that started against Serbia, with Lucas Paqueta behind Neymar, Vinicius Jr., Raphinha and Richarlison.
The biggest question mark is who will play left-back with Sandro and Telles ruled out.
Marquinhos replaced the Sevilla defender after he sustained the injury against Cameroon, but right back Danilo and midfielder Everton Ribeiro are also options.
“Alex Sandro’s replacement will be a player that have already played in that position in his club. Make your research and you will find out who he is,” Tite said.
Meanwhile, wild cards South Korea say they have nothing to fear and nothing to lose when they take on five-times champions, with their sights set on another giant-killing feat in a World Cup where big names have taken a beating.
After an extraordinary group phase that saw former winners Brazil and Argentina defeated by low-ranked opponents, plus Belgium and Germany eliminated, South Korea see this World Cup as their best chance in decades to make their mark.
“Every match, every minute is very valuable and precious. The entire team has great morale, great teamwork ” said wingback Kim Jin-su.
“We all have truly wanted to get this far and we are all really thirsty for this.”
Monday’s match against Brazil is their first in the knockout rounds since 2010 and only their third overall.
South Korea’s Portuguese coach Paulo Bento complained about a gap of just 72 hours between matches and said his team had physical and emotional fatigue, compared to a Brazil who had a squad with enough depth to rest players.
He said he was expecting Brazil to take the game to South Korea but was confident his players could keep them at bay.
“We’re up against world-class players we are not intimidated,” he said. “In our squad we have world-class players. One match it’s not an entire tournament, we have one chance... Most important is we show we are a team that wants to win, wants to compete and fight until the last whistle,” he said. “Based on that, everything is a victory.”
Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022