Thiago Silva has backed Neymar to follow in the footsteps of Paris St Germain team-mates Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani by impressing in the World Cup knockout stages.
Brazil forward Neymar came into the tournament lacking fitness following a foot injury and scored once during three group games.
Fellow PSG players Mbappe and Cavani were instrumental in their countries reaching the quarter-finals on Saturday, each scoring twice as France knocked out Argentina and Uruguay saw off Portugal.
Brazil face Mexico in the last 16 of the competition this afternoon and defender Silva, who plays with all three players in Paris, believes Neymar could replicate the exploits of France forward Mbappe and Uruguay striker Cavani.
“Yesterday, when the [France and Uruguay] games were over, I thought the same thing, that Neymar will have his way in our match,” said Silva at Brazil’s pre-match press conference yesterday.
“They [Mbappe and Cavani] were both fundamental for the victories.
“I think Paris St Germain is very well represented [at the World Cup], but now we are talking about the Brazilian national team and I think our team is very balanced. In the right moments, we have the right freedom for the strikers to do what they do best.
“We hope tomorrow is going to be great and Neymar is inspired as well as the others.”
Left-back Marcelo will be absent for the five-time champions in Samara after he was forced off injured in the final group game against Serbia. Felipe Luis will deputise.
Coach Tite was impressed with how Neymar performed against the Serbians as the player continues his recovery from foot surgery. “He played very, very well against Serbia. I told him, ‘We know the price you have paid to climb back to this level’,” said Tite.
“He did everything we asked tactically, defending the full-back, and looked for goal, to dribble and run with the ball.”
Mexico helped eliminate defending champions Germany in the group stages as they reached the last 16 for the seventh successive World Cup. Now they are desperate to go at least one better and play in the quarter-finals for the first time since 1986, when they were the tournament hosts.
They appeared on course to top Group F before a 3-0 defeat by Sweden in their third match left them in second place and facing a tough tie against Brazil. Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio described Brazil as the best team in the world, but insists his players will attack, despite the tricky draw.
“We won’t sit back and wait, Brazil’s attackers are too good for that to be the right plan,” said the Colombian. “We will stick to our idea of having at least four or five attacking players.
“I really think this is going to be a great opportunity for Mexican football to face, in the round of 16, the best team on the planet.
“And I think that we will have to play to our full potential.
“It’s going to be a great game, especially for the neutrals.”
While many observers will expect Neymar to be the main dangerman for Brazil, Osorio has got his eyes on someone else. The Mexico coach revealed that Philippe Coutinho, the former Liverpool midfielder now at Barcelona, is the one he fears most.
“No one doubts the talent that Brazil have in attack, with Willian, Douglas Costa, Neymar… but I think Coutinho makes the difference because he’s a player that can play anywhere in midfield or further forward,” explained Osorio.
“He is a player we will have to watch out for and he’s really important to Brazil’s game.”