Neymar back, but on Brazil bench for Anfield

Brazil striker Neymar, right, larks about with Philippe Coutinho in training. Picture: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty.
Brazil striker Neymar, right, larks about with Philippe Coutinho in training. Picture: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty.
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Neymar is set to play for Brazil today for the first time since being injured in February.

But the striker will only come on in the second half of the friendly game against Croatia in Liverpool, Brazil coach Tite said at a press conference yesterday.

Neymar has been sidelined for more than three months due to surgery on his right foot.

“He will be on the bench because he is in the process of recovery and will play in the second half because this is a match to prepare the whole team,” Tite said. “I don’t know who will leave [come off]. He has to have a leading role, but the others have to have leading roles as well.”

Brazil’s team to face Croatia at Anfield was unveiled as Alisson; Danilo, Thiago Silva, Miranda and Marcelo; Casemiro, Paulinho and Fernandinho; Philippe Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus and Willian.

Asked whether that would be his starting line-up if the World Cup began now, Tite said “Yes” three times. “At this moment they are the best and we have to work with the current moment,” Tite said.

That would mean defender Thiago Silva, Brazil’s captain at the 2014 World Cup, getting his place back in the starting line-up alongside Miranda, leaving his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Marquinhos out.

“It was very difficult to choose,” Tite said. “When Marquinhos got injured a few months ago, Thiago stepped in and did great. Sometimes it pains my heart and I have to decide. It would be fair to have any of those three in the team.”

Still, Tite said he could change his mind before the World Cup begins. Brazil’s opening match is on 17 June against Switzerland. Costa Rica and Serbia are also in Group E. Brazil’s coach denied that the midfield formation with Casemiro, Fernandinho and Paulinho would be too cautious.

Midfielder Renato Augusto, who plays more as a pacemaker, was injured earlier in the week during training and replaced by Manchester City’s Fernandinho.

The five-time World Cup winners will not have a single captain for the tournament and 21-year-old striker Gabriel Jesus will lead the team today. “We will keep sharing [the captaincy] in the World Cup. But with athletes that are more experienced, they will be used more,” Tite said.

Croatia were deliberately picked by Brazil as a tough opponent, and coaching assistant Cleber Xavier said it was a test similar to the one Brazil will face against Serbia.

“Croatia have many players in Italy, Spain. Their midfielders are great and they play with two lines of four players. Luka Modric here is different from the one of Real Madrid. It will be a great test,” Xavier said.

Modric said Brazil are better than the team which opened the 2014 World Cup against Croatia in Sao Paulo. Brazil won that game 3-1 with two goals by Neymar.

“But we have improved too, so 
this will be a good game,” Modric said.