Saturday 15 December 2018

Neymar announces his return spectacularly

Brazil 2 Croatia 0

Neymar and Roberto Firmino celebrate after Brazil’s second goal against Croatia at Anfield. Photo: Getty Images
Neymar and Roberto Firmino celebrate after Brazil’s second goal against Croatia at Anfield. Photo: Getty Images

Ian Whittel

Just 98 days after he feared his hopes of playing in the Russia World Cup were over, Neymar made a stunning statement with a goal-scoring return to action for Brazil's friendly victory at Anfield yesterday.

The £200m Paris St-Germain forward, thrown on at the interval for Manchester City's Fernandinho, needed just 24 minutes to answer concerns about his fitness in emphatic fashion.

Brazil's Willian fends off Croatia's Domagoj Vida. Photo: Reuters
Brazil's Willian fends off Croatia's Domagoj Vida. Photo: Reuters

Taking a pass from Philippe Coutinho on the edge of the Croatia area, Neymar darted towards goal, head down, in the manner that has become such a familiar sight.

One Croat defender was quickly put out of the game and Sime Vrsaljko and Duje Caleta-Car were beaten with a peerless display of close-quarter dribbling before Neymar switched the ball seamlessly from left to right foot.

There still appeared a degree of difficulty left with the finish, but Neymar made it look effortless as he rammed the ball into the roof of the Croatia goal, via the crossbar, from the edge of the six-yard area.

Brazil manager Tite said: "For the first match back I actually expected less from him! I would have been happy with a quieter performance.

Brazil's Fernandinho and Croatia's Ivan Perisic rise for the ball. Photo: Reuters
Brazil's Fernandinho and Croatia's Ivan Perisic rise for the ball. Photo: Reuters

"But what he did was extraordinary. Neymar is an extraordinary individual talent, but the goal he scored came from a move, a build-up, involving the whole team. He's aware of what they bring to him."

Neymar's reaction to his goal was understandable, punching the air as he was mobbed by team-mates.

It was a sense of relief that will be shared by a nation that is looking for its sixth World Cup title when they start against Switzerland in Rostov-on-Don on June 17.

And that relief will also be felt by millions of football supporters who might have feared that his presence in Russia was a doubt when he broke a bone in a foot and twisted an ankle in a PSG game in February.

Brazil's Philippe Coutinho is challenged by Croatia's Sime Vrsaljko. Photo: Reuters
Brazil's Philippe Coutinho is challenged by Croatia's Sime Vrsaljko. Photo: Reuters

It was an afternoon which Liverpool's Roberto Firmino will also have enjoyed as he controlled Danilo's injury-time pass on his chest and lobbed in Brazil's second over the advancing Danijel Subasic.

And while Coutinho was not afforded such a warm welcome back to Anfield - he was booed by a smattering of Anfield fans - Croatia's Dejan Lovren almost scored on his home ground with a first-half header.

Elsewhere, Switzerland held Spain to a 1-1 draw in Villarreal as AC Milan full-back Ricardo Rodriguez's 62nd-minute goal cancelled out Alvaro Odriozola's opener for the hosts.

An excellent volley from 20 yards by Real Sociedad defender Odriozola gave Spain a deserved lead in the 20th minute and they never looked under threat before the break. But an error by Manchester United keeper David de Gea gave Rodriguez a simple tap in and a more than acceptable result for the visitors on Spanish soil.

Brazil players pose for a team group photo before the match. Photo: Reuters
Brazil players pose for a team group photo before the match. Photo: Reuters

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland ended their short tour of central America with a 3-0 defeat to World Cup finalists Costa Rica in San Jose.

Brazil: Alisson; Danilo, Thiago Silva, Miranda (Marquinhos 64), Marcelo (Filipe Luis 59); Paulinho, Casemiro, Fernandinho (Neymar 46); Willian (Taison 81), Jesus (Firmino 59), Coutinho (Fred 81).

Croatia: Subasic; Vrsaljko (Jedvaj 87), Lovren, Corluka (Caleta-Car 52), Vida; Rebic (Pjaca 64), Badejl (Brozovic 61), Rakitic (Bradaric 83), Perisic; Modric (Kovacic 58); Kramaric. REF - M Oliver (England).

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