LIVERPOOL, England — Three quick thoughts from Brazil’s 2-0 win over Croatia as both sides continue their preparations for the 2018 World Cup.
1. Neymar caps return with goal as Brazil win
It was the first time in over three months that Neymar set foot on a pitch and it only took 24 minutes from there for him to announce that he was back after injury.
A dour warm-up game was lit up by the mere presence of the world’s most expensive footballer, let alone his impact on it. Introduced at half-time to a rapturous reception in a near-full Anfield, Neymar scored the game’s opening goal in the 69th minute, dancing and weaving through Croatia defenders before rifling the ball into the roof of the net.
The goal itself and his celebration — a tall jump, appearing to release the frustration of the past few months — were emphatic.
There is no guarantee that the Paris Saint-Germain forward will be completely match-fit by the time Brazil play their World Cup opener against Switzerland on June 17. But early indications suggest the 26-year-old has recovered well from his fractured metatarsal and ankle sprain.
Fortunately for Brazil and head coach Tite, the absence of Neymar no longer means the team simply cannot function. Roberto Firmino scoring Brazil’s second goal on the day with a tidy finish in the dying seconds was a timely reminder of that fact.
Indeed, Brazil go into Russia as one of the favourites and free from the pressure of hosting the tournament, which culminated in the humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany in the semifinals back in 2014. Tite has built a team that is more balanced than the one Luiz Felipe Scolari put together four years ago. However, it’s one that still possesses an abundance of talent, worth its weight in gold, that can turn games.
Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Willian and Firmino, who came on as a second-half sub, all have the opportunity to freely express their attacking instinct, which is only possible because of the strong base behind them that includes Casemiro and Fernandinho.
Always a decent watch during major tournaments anyway, Brazil look like they mean business in 2018.