Neymar needs at least five matches to return to top form after a long injury layoff, but Brazil have not asked their talismanic forward to gamble on his fitness just to be improve their chances at the World Cup, coach Tite said yesterday.
The five-times world champions drew their opening Group E game against Switzerland 1-1 and play their second match against Costa Rica in St Petersburg today.
Neymar missed a chunk of the season with a fractured right foot and sprained ankle, but returned to play in Brazil’s last two friendlies before the World Cup and started their first match of the tournament.
The 26-year-old has trained with the rest of the squad for two days in a row after sitting out Tuesday’s session due to a sore ankle.
“It’s about five matches, that’s the minimum you need to be full on and he’s already started the process,” said Tite. “There’s evolution taking place, so don’t worry.
“We want to win. It’s a World Cup. But the coach is not going to risk a player’s health or be dishonest to win. That’s a price that is too high to pay.”
The 57-year-old, known for his emphasis on the collective, also denied asking Neymar to curb his individual attacking instincts in order to serve the team better.
“It’s not true. It didn’t happen,” he said. “All of the athletes have this responsibility of playing for the collective and also being individuals.
“I’m not going to take Neymar’s initiative away from him. He is a genius... All of us have to help the team reach its potential but we have to respect individual characteristics. I’m not going to take that away from anybody.”
“I trained well, felt comfortable,” Neymar said in a video posted by the Brazilian FA yesterday. “The foot is fine.”
Brazil officials insist his current issue is not linked to the foot injury that sidelined Neymar for about three months earlier this year.
Tite said he would name an unchanged starting line-up for the match against Costa Rica to give his players a chance to show their character as he defended his policy of rotating captains through the tournament.
He also sprang to the defence of centre-back Thiago Silva, who was heavily criticized during the last World Cup in Brazil but has been named skipper for today’s match.
“If we took out everybody who was criticised in the last World Cup there would be nobody playing. We wouldn’t even have a national team. And life and football are not like that,” said Tite.
“There are a number of athletes who have the maturity and experience to take on the captaincy and Thiago is one of them.”
Costa Rica, meanwhile, topped their group and reached the World Cup quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil, but are on the brink of an early exit after a 1-0 loss to Serbia last Sunday.
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