Monday 17 December 2018

Brazil's campaign turning into the Neymar show again

Brazil's Neymar JR. Photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images
Brazil's Neymar JR. Photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Paul Hayward

Four years after they held his shirt up during the anthems before the 7-1 defeat to Germany, Brazil still feel like the Neymar Show, with the manager forced to deny he has told the team's global star to be less selfish against Costa Rica in game two.

"It's a lie," declared Adenor Bacchi, better known as 'Tite', at the Saint Petersburg Stadium, where Brazil will endeavour to improve on their 1-1 draw with Switzerland.

In a media conference dominated by the world's most expensive player, Tite was interrogated about suggestions back in Brazil that Neymar played his own private game against the Swiss and was asked to change his ways against Costa Rica.

"I don't like to personalise it, but absolutely not," Tite said. "The information you have is not true, not to say - it's a lie, that didn't happen. All the players have the responsibility of playing for the collective, but also being an individual. I'm not going to take away from him his ingenuity in the final third of the field - his genius. You have my word - this is not true.

"The last third of the pitch - you have to go there, you have to create. I'm not going to take that away from anyone."

To find Neymar at the centre of attention four years after he missed the calamitous loss to Germany in Belo Horizonte through injury is hardly surprising, though, given his subsequent €222m move to Paris St-Germain, and the constant dramas around his happiness or otherwise in France.

The most heavily-branded player in Brazilian football history has also just returned from a foot fracture and limped out of training this week, only to return in time for Tite to name an unchanged team. With all this going on, you might forget that Brazil can also call on Gabriel Jesus, their first-choice centre-forward, Roberto Firmino, who replaced Jesus in Rostov-on-Don, Philippe Coutinho, who scored a sumptuous curled goal against Switzerland, and Douglas Costa - who, many thought, should have come on for Neymar in their opening Group E match.

Tite, though, has plainly staked his reputation on his household name and the crowd-pleaser, who was fouled 10 times by Switzerland from a total of 19 fouls against the Selecao. Brazil were sufficiently rattled by that game to claim the Video Assistant Referee was underused, but now Tite is retreating from that position.

He says: "I don't want any kind of advantage, we don't need an advantage. We want to say we won because we played better."

Costa Rica's coach Oscar Ramirez promised to play fair. "People have tried to stop him (Neymar) a little aggressively," Ramirez said. "Maybe we'll cover him with two players. Of course we don't want to see any unfair challenges against him."

Tite, meanwhile, insists Neymar's hobbling in midweek was not a recurrence of his old injury.

"No, he had a blow there, but I think it was three and a half months before he played his first game of 90 minutes.

"There's a science and a lot of tranquillity here. It's a minimum of five matches you need to be spot on, and he's already sped up the process. There's an evolution going on here, don't worry. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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