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FIFA World Cup 2018: Neymar Brazil’s best but he is in good company

Unlike in 2014, Brazil coach Tite has options to take the load off his biggest star Neymar in the FIFA World Cup.

football Updated: Jun 21, 2018 20:12 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Nizhny Novgorod
FIFA World Cup 2018,FIFA World Cup,Neymar
Neymar attends Brazil's training on the eve of the Group E match against Costa Rica at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in St. Petersburg on Thursday.(AP)

The Brazil camp has been sweating over the fitness of Neymar over the past few days after the Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) forward hobbled off a training session earlier this week.

He is now back in business but there will be a few concerns over him after being subjected to 10 fouls by Switzerland, the most on any player in two decades at a World Cup game. This after Neymar missed three months of action prior to the World Cup due to a foot injury.

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Four years back when Neymar was spearheading Brazil’s World Cup campaign at home, his injury in the quarter-final against Colombia saw him being ruled out of the rest of the tournament. An insipid Brazil then suffered a 7-1 humiliation at the hands of Germany in the semi-finals before going down 3-0 to The Netherlands in the third-place play-off.

Coutinho support

This time, however, there isn’t as much reliance on Neymar. In Barcelona star Philippe Countinho, Brazil have a player who can not only support the PSG star, but also replace him on the left flank.

Neymar scored six of Brazil’s 41 goals during the qualifying campaign with Gabriel Jesus topping the charts for his side with seven goals in 10 matches.

Goals also came from Paulinho, who scored as many as Neymar, and Coutinho and Willian. With Roberto Firmino arriving in Russia on the back of a prolific season with Liverpool, there is another lethal attacking option for coach Tite.

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Part of the whole

“He will be missed by any team but not having him sometimes helps us consolidate the style we want,” centre-back Thiago Silva was quoted as saying by AP ahead of the World Cup.

Tite’s comments on Neymar after Brazil’s 2-0 friendly win over Croatia earlier this month summed up the difference between this side and the one four years back.

“Neymar’s different but he should not have to win a game on his own. It’s inhuman (to expect him to do so). He is important to us but he is part of a strong team,” Tite said.

The Switzerland game showed that Neymar will be in for some rough treatment during this tournament but that may come as a boon for Brazil if it also means greater freedom for Coutinho on the left flank.

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“My idea was to keep Neymar out of the game. I had a man glued to him to prevent him from playing his game,” Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic told reporters after the 1-1 draw, referring to Valon Behrami’s intense monitoring of Neymar’s movements.

Against Costa Rica, there is unlikely to be any let-off in the scrutiny on Neymar. During the qualifying campaign and in their friendlies this year, Tite had showed that he is more than comfortable with changing his approach depending on the type of opponent.

A change in tactics may be needed against the North American side as well to protect his best player ahead of bigger tests in the tournament. When Brazil were forced to do the same four years back, they crumbled in the absence of their star forward. However, with a squad boasting of some ferocious attacking personnel, Tite will know he can afford to shuffle his forward line.

First Published: Jun 21, 2018 19:44 IST