ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (AP) — Neymar is still the key to Brazil’s attack, even if he hasn’t fully recovered from a right foot injury.
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The five-time champions play their opening World Cup match on Sunday against Switzerland, and Neymar is expected to take his position at the front.
“Neymar is not yet 100 percent,” Brazil coach Tite said Saturday. “But physically, he is very privileged. His sprints, his speed are very impressive. He’s not 100 percent yet … but he’s good enough to play well.”
Neymar appeared relaxed in training at the empty 45,000-seat Rostov Arena, his bleached hair held back with a band.
Tite said midfielder Fred, newly signed by Manchester United, is still recovering from an ankle injury and is the team’s only doubt.
Six months after his record-breaking transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, Neymar fractured his right foot in February in a match against Marseille. Many in Brazil have been obsessively focused on his recovery, fretting over the national team’s promise to overcome its humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 semifinals.
Since Tite took over, Brazil has lost only once in 21 matches and was the first of 31 teams to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. After Switzerland, the Brazilians will take on Serbia and Costa Rica in Group E.
“I’m happy with the way we’ve played,” Tite said. “What we have to do is replicate it at the World Cup.”
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Despite Brazil’s optimism, the team is wary of Sunday’s opponents.
“They have two lines of defense and they do it very well. They also have speed in attack,” assistant coach Cleber Xavier said. “We’ve analyzed our opponents in great depth, and I think Switzerland is the strongest team we are going to face at the moment. Of course, that’s with the exception of Germany, which plays in a different league.”