Neymar to come off bench in Brazil friendly against Croatia

Gabriel Jesus showed off his football freestyle skills before Philippe Coutinho got his ears flicked by teammates including Neymar as the loser of a game of keepie-uppie.
Neymar is “calm and confident” as he continues his return from injury ahead of the World Cup, according to Brazil captain Thiago Silva.
Neymar will steal most of the headlines, but Brazil will need a total team effort if they’re to lift their sixth World Cup trophy in Russia.

Brazil will start Sunday’s friendly against Croatia without Neymar, but the Paris Saint-Germain striker will make a second-half appearance and return from a three-month injury spell, coach Tite said on Saturday.

Neymar has been sidelined since Feb. 25, when he fractured a metatarsal and sprained his ankle in a Ligue 1 match against Marseille.

“He’s on the bench because he is still recovering,” Tite told reporters in Liverpool, where Sunday’s game will take place. “He will come on at half-time. Whom he replaces, I don’t know, but that is the idea.”

Tite said Neymar must be “a protagonist” for his country but added that the others players must also step up.

Tite also unveiled his starting XI for the match, with a front three of Philippe Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus and Willian and a midfield of Casemiro, Paulinho and Fernandinho playing in front of Danilo, Thiago Silva, Miranda and Marcelo, and Alisson in goal.

Fernandinho is replacing the injured Renato Augusto. Asked whether that XI would be his starting lineup if the World Cup began now, Tite said yes. 

“At this moment they are the best and we have to work with the current moment,” the coach said.

Tite also criticised Brazil team sponsor Mastercard, telling the credit card company that an offer of charitable donations in return for goals by Neymar and Lionel Messi was not helpful in a team sport.

Mastercard, which has been one of Brazil’s main sponsors since 2012, last week announced they would donate the equivalent value of 10,000 meals to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) every time Messi or Neymar scored a goal for either club or country. The offer lasts until March 2020.

Tite, however, made his unease plain.

“Mastercard, I am going to tell you something,” he said. “This donation to charity is very nice. It’s beautiful and it’s grand. Just as it would be a grand gesture you giving food if any Argentina or Brazil player was to score a goal. We work here as a team and these gestures can be a bit frustrating. That’s my suggestion.”

The comments, reported on Brazilian web site UOL, followed criticism of the campaign on social media, and come in spite of support from both players.

Messi said he was “proud to be a part of this campaign” and Neymar said it was an example of how the traditional rivals “can do great things when we come together.”

Both men head to the World Cup in Russia this month as the undisputed standouts of their squads and both are aiming for the winners’ medal that would cap their careers to date.

Brazil have been drawn alongside Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia, while Argentina play Iceland, Nigeria and Croatia in the group stage.