Tite hails 'extraordinary' Neymar's golden return

by Ian Whittell
Neymar will be vital as Brazil target a record sixth World Cup

Neymar proved his fitness for the World Cup with an explosive return to action that left Brazil manager Tite stunned as the superstar's superb strike inspired Sunday's 2-0 win over Croatia.

Sidelined for 98 days after breaking a metatarsal and spraining his ankle while playing for Paris Saint-Germain in late February, Neymar had confessed to concerns about his fitness ahead of the World Cup in Russia.

But, after appearing as a half-time replacement for Fernandinho, Neymar eased his country's fears by scoring a magnificent individual goal in the 68th minute at Anfield.

Tite couldn't believe what he'd just seen from the striker in his first appearance for over three months.

"For the first match back I actually expected less from him! I would have been happy with a quieter performance," Tite said.

"What he did was really extraordinary. Neymar is an extraordinary individual talent but the goal he scored came from a move, a build-up, involving the whole team.

"He's aware of what they bring to him."

Tite, who has now led Brazil to 16 victories in 20 games in charge, was understandably keen to focus on his team's efforts, rather than Neymar's solo contribution.

But he knows the world's most expensive footballer is destined to steal the headlines from his side's impressive World Cup warm-up victory.

"In terms of scoring, the responsibility doesn't just fall on his shoulders," Tite said.

"He just has to keep working hard, like he is doing, working for the team and keep the team at the forefront of his mind."

Brazil have returned to train in London, where they have been using the facilities of Premier League club Tottenham, before moving on to Austria to face the hosts in Vienna in their final friendly on Sunday.

One week later, Tite leads Brazil against Switzerland in their opening group match as the Selecao start their quest for a sixth World Cup title.

They do so on the back of a solid victory against fellow World Cup qualifiers Croatia, which also featured a stoppage-time goal from Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino.

"At half-time, I said to the players, you're in a battle out there, the opposition is playing at a very high level," said Tite.

"But this is what they have to expect at the World Cup. There are going to be moments when the opponents are on top and it makes a difference if you can soak that up and show your superiority."

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The visit to the north-west of England may also prove memorable for Neymar's team mate Fred, the Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder who is on the brink of a transfer to Manchester United.

Reports in Brazil suggested Fred was leaving his national squad and making the short trip to Manchester in readiness for a medical and to complete the signing for the Premier League club.

Tite declined to reveal whether that was the case, but did confirm that talks are on-going and urged United and Fred to complete the business as quickly as possible.

"Something like this speculation is inevitable when you're meeting in the summer and players are always thinking of their careers," he said.

"What we say is please resolve it as soon as possible so your head is back with us and focused on the national team.

"But if I was the manager of a club team, I would be looking to sign him."

Meanwhile, Brazil's former Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho believes the World Cup is an opportunity for a new global icon to emerge and challenge the domination of Argentina's Lionel Messi and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Barcelona star considers Neymar and his former Liverpool colleague Mohamed Salah of Egypt the most likely candidates.

"Messi and Ronaldo have been up there on their own for so many years. I think it may be time for other players to aspire to be the best in the world," he said.

"For me, Salah and Neymar have serious chances to do that."

Brazil star Neymar made a superb return from injury against Croatia