Neymar: Brazil looks to book place in knockout stage without injured star



CNN

The image of Neymar limping off the pitch, his right ankle visibly swollen, would leave millions of Brazil fans fearing the worst.

Fortunately for them, the player who has become the talisman of this generation will be fit in time to play in the 2022 World Cup knockout stage, should Brazil qualify, after being diagnosed with an ankle sprain.

Brazil’s 2-0 2-0 win over Serbia was far from pretty at times, although Tite’s iteration of the Selection is known more for its pragmatism and efficiency than its aesthetics.

As the second half got underway and Richarlison scored his and Brazil’s second to seal the win, the players in the famous Canary Yellow shirts began to show flashes of the flair that World Cup fans have grown accustomed to seeing over the years.

But Neymar’s absence for the two remaining Group G matches in Brazil will be a huge blow, with the Paris Saint-Germain forward’s creativity so crucial for this team to break down defences.

However, it is also a considerable personal blow for Neymar, whose legacy with the national team will be largely defined by how he and Brazil perform in Qatar. Now 30, the World Cup will likely be his best chance to lift the trophy.

Despite being just two goals away from equaling Pele’s all-time Brazilian record of 77 goals, Neymar has never received the same adoration as the Brazilian great of old, but victory in Qatar would go a long way to changing that.

Switzerland go into the game off the back of a hard-fought victory over Cameroon, with Cameroon-born Breel Embolo scoring the second-half winner.

The game was certainly a slog at times and Switzerland were fortunate that Cameroon were unable to convert a number of golden chances to open the scoring in the first half.

Embolo’s pace, movement and finishing will certainly be enough to give Brazil’s defense trouble, especially in the absence of the injured Danilo, while Xherdan Shaqiri is still capable of producing an individual moment of brilliance.

New Manchester City signing Manuel Akanji has proven himself to be one of the world’s best defenders, with left-back Ricardo Rodriguez always a threat with his delivery of crosses and set pieces.

The opening win over Cameroon will give the Swiss team a huge boost of confidence as it looks to qualify from one of the tournament’s most competitive groups, aiming to reach a first World Cup quarter-final since 1954.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal are sitting pretty on top of Group H after the opening round of fixtures, but their place at the top doesn’t tell the whole story.

Portugal edged Ghana 3-2 in perhaps the most entertaining game of the World Cup to date and could quite easily have thrown it away at the death, as Iñaki Williams slipped at the crucial moment after sneaking up behind goalkeeper Diogo Costa to steal the ball .

Ronaldo’s penalty to break the deadlock meant the 37-year-old became the first men’s player in history to score in five World Cups, but he admitted he was far from his best.

Ronaldo, likely playing in his last World Cup, remains Portugal’s biggest goal threat and will be up against familiar foes Diego Godín and José María Giménez in the Uruguayan back line.

The former Real Madrid striker spent many years in La Liga opposing the Uruguayan centre-back pair when they played together for Atletico Madrid and Ronaldo will know he faces a physical battle on Monday.

Uruguay had a disappointing performance against South Korea in their opener and stars such as Godín, Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani are showing their age.

However, in Federico Valverde, Uruguay boast one of Europe’s best midfielders and his energy will be crucial to lead. La Celeste through the group stage.

The other Group H game pits Ghana against South Korea, with both teams desperate for a win to kick-start their World Cup campaigns. In hindsight, the Koreans will perhaps regret showing Uruguay too much respect in their opening game, sitting back for too long in a game that was there to win.

Star man Son Heung-min showed glimpses of his quality but looked a little off the pace on his return from injury, donning a protective mask to protect his fractured eye socket.

In Ghana, Korea knows it faces a team with an abundance of quality in the final third, as the match against Portugal proved. Williams and Mohammed Qudus have the individual ability to trouble any defence, while Premier League pair Mohammed Salisu and Daniel Amartey form a solid defensive base.

Both teams will feel like the three points are there for the taking, with a draw not a particularly favorable result for either side.

Cameroon vs. Serbia: 5:00 ET

South Korea vs. Ghana: 8:00 p.m. ET

Brazil vs Switzerland 11:00 ET

Portugal vs. Uruguay 2 PM ET

US: Fox Sports

UK: BBC or ITV

Australia: SBS

Brazil: SportTV

Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom

Canada: Bell Media

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