Brazil star Neymar back in World Cup contention after injury battle

PSG forward could be fit to face South Korea in Round of 16 on Monday

Brazil's Neymar could be fit to face South Kora on Monday. AP
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Neymar could be set to return for Brazil in their World Cup last-16 encounter against South Korea on Monday, according to manager Tite.

The Brazil captain, the world’s most expensive player, is recovering from an ankle injury sustained in his team’s opening 2-0 win against Serbia on November 24. The issue, initially not thought to be too severe, kept Neymar out of Brazil’s two group matches since.

However, on Sunday, Tite told reporters: “Neymar will train today in the afternoon and, if he trains well, he will play.”

Asked if that meant he could start against South Korea at Stadium 974, especially with the knockout format meaning matches can extend into extra-time and penalties, Tite replied: “My preference is always to play my best players from the start.

“If he plays, it's because he is in full health and ready to start, to play from the beginning and the entire game with no limitations. It’s the coach who has to make that decision and take on that responsibility.”

Brazil, record five-time world champions, have suffered a number of injuries to key players, including full-backs Danilo and Alex Sandro. On Saturday, the day following their surprise 1-0 defeat to Cameroon in the group finale — Brazil had already qualified — left-back Alex Telles and forward Gabriel Jesus were both ruled out for the remainder of the tournament.

“[Sandro] can't play; still recovering,” Tite said. “Danilo and Neymar are back.”

On facing South Korea, who qualified for the last 16 by scoring in the 91st minute of their final group game against Portugal, Tite said: “We are better prepared for what happened [with the injuries], and even for the loss to Cameroon.”

Tite also sent his support and best wishes to Pele, the three-time World Cup winner with Brazil, who was hospitalised earlier this week in Sao Paulo as he battles colon cancer.

Brazil beaten by Cameroon

A newspaper report on Saturday claimed the 82-year-old was not responding to chemotherapy and was thus receiving palliative care. However, a post on Pele’s Instagram account later said: “I'm strong, with a lot of hope and I follow my treatment as usual. I have a lot of faith in God and every message of love I receive from you all over the world keeps me full of energy”.

On Sunday, Tite said: “Please excuse me, but I’m going to tell you about my personal feelings regarding Pele. This is possibly the only person who I was actually shaking when I greeted him, in 2018.

“I’m speaking from the bottom of my heart, a very emotional moment for me. He is the human representation of Brazil’s football. Health, Pele, health — that’s all I give you. That’s something all of us feel at this difficult moment.”

Meanwhile, South Korea captain Son Heung-min called for his side to “script another miracle” on Monday against one of the tournament favourites. South Korea have only once previously gone further than the last 16 in the World Cup, reaching the semi-finals in 2002, when they were joint hosts.

“We've always talked about reaching the Round of 16 as our objective but we should now try to go beyond that,” said Son, who assisted the winner that sealed his team’s knockout spot. “I hope we can script another miracle.”

Updated: December 04, 2022, 3:15 PM