Five-time champions Brazil are set to enter their first knockout match of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with one of their deadliest threats – superstar Neymar – back on the field.
Neymar, and the Brazil team, are expected to play on Monday night against South Korea at 10pm (19:00 GMT) at Stadium 974 after footage released by the Brazilian football federation showed the forward in good condition as he did drills with the ball and took shots on goal a day before the match.
Brazil coach Tite had earlier told reporters he would start with the striker if he was fit to play.
“I prefer to use my best player from the start,” Tite said on Sunday. “It’s the coach who has to make that decision and take on that responsibility.”
Neymar, whose $263m transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 set a record, missed the final two group stage matches against Switzerland and Cameroon after he sustained ligament damage during the opening match against Serbia, which Brazil won 2-0.
Brazil went on to beat Switzerland 1-0 and lose to Cameroon 0-1, with most of the team’s top players given a rest during the match, which came after they had already secured qualification for the knockout round.
Thirty-year-old Neymar is no stranger to injuries, having for years contended with problems in his right foot and ankle that hindered his appearances in the 2014 and 2018 World Cups.
Nevertheless, the talisman’s play-making ability will likely prove fundamental to Brazil’s success going forward 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 forward Gabriel Jesus and left-back Alex Telles were ruled out of the rest of the World Cup after sustaining injuries against Cameroon.
Right-back Danilo has also been ruled fit to return, while left-back Alex Sandro will not play against South Korea, who made it to the Round of 16 on goal differential over Uruguay after upsetting Portugal 2-1 in their final group stage match.
On Sunday, South Korea coach Paulo Bento played coy when asked about Neymar’s return, telling reporters: “Obviously we won’t say that it’s better to face Brazil when Neymar is playing, but I always prefer when the best players are there.”
The Asian team’s chances have been also boosted by good news on the injuries front: A healthy Hwang Hee-chan, who scored the decisive goal against Portugal while also struggling with injuries throughout the group stage, is expected to start on Tuesday.
In June, Brazil thrashed South Korea 5-1 in a friendly in Seoul. But Brazil captain Thiago Silva said his team wouldn’t be taking 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’s the World Cup and they’ve advanced in a very tough group. We have a lot of respect for them.”