Five-time champions Brazil are set to enter their first World Cup 2022 qualifying match in Qatar with one of their deadliest threats, superstar Neymar, back on the pitch.
Neymar and the Brazil team are expected to play on Monday night against South Korea at 10:00 p.m. (7:00 p.m. GMT) at Estadio 974 after images released by the Brazilian soccer federation showed the striker. in good condition while exercising with the ball and shot on goal one day before the match.
Brazil coach Tite had previously told reporters that he would start the striker if he was fit to play.
“I prefer to use my best player from the beginning,” Tite said Sunday. “It is the coach who has to make that decision and assume that responsibility.”
Neymar, whose $263 million transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 set a record, missed the last two group games against Switzerland and Cameroon after suffering a ligament injury during the opening game against Serbia, which Brazil won 2-0.
Brazil beat Switzerland 1-0 and lost to Cameroon 0-1, with most of the team’s top players resting for the match, which came after they had already secured qualification for the knockout round.
Neymar, 30, is no stranger to injuries, having for years had problems with his right foot and ankle that hampered his appearances at the 2014 and 2018 World Cups.
Neymar from Brazil was injured in the match against Serbia [File: Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]
However, the talisman’s playmaking ability will likely prove critical to Brazil’s future success as they face an increasingly competitive field in Qatar, with Argentina, England, France and the Netherlands having already secured their places in the quarterfinals.
That’s particularly true after striker Gabriel Jesus and left-back Alex Telles were ruled out of the remainder of the World Cup after picking up injuries against Cameroon.
Right-back Danilo has also been declared fit to return, while left-back Alex Sandro will sit out against South Korea, who reached the round of 16 on goal difference over Uruguay after beating Portugal 2-1 in their last game. of the group stage. .
On Sunday, South Korea’s coach Paulo Bento played coy when asked about Neymar’s return, telling reporters: “Obviously we won’t say it’s better to face Brazil when Neymar plays, but I always prefer when they’re playing. best players”.
The Asian team’s chances have also been boosted by good news on the injury front: a healthy Hwang Hee-chan, who scored the decisive goal against Portugal while also struggling with injuries during the group stage, is expected to start the Tuesday.
In June, Brazil thrashed South Korea 5-1 in a friendly in Seoul. But Brazil captain Thiago Silva said his team would not take their opponents lightly, even with Neymar back in action.
“We can’t think it’s going to be an easy game like it was in that friendly,” he told reporters. “Now it is the World Cup and they have advanced in a very difficult group. We have a lot of respect for them.”