Neymar set to return to action in Brazil-Croatia friendly

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Neymar is set to play for Brazil on Sunday 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 news conference on Saturday.

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. He has to have a leading role, but the others have to have leading roles as well.”

Brazil’s team on Sunday 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 lineup 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 lineup alongside Miranda, leaving his Paris Saint-Germain teammate 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 opener is on June 17 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.

Five-time World Cup champion Brazil will not have a single captain for the tournament and 21-year-old striker Gabriel Jesus will lead the team on Sunday.

“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 was 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 has 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 was better than the team which opened the 2014 World Cup against Croatia in Sao Paulo. Brazil won that game 3-1 with two goals from Neymar.

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

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