Neymar set for World Cup showdown with Messi

by AFP

BRAZIL – Neymar will face his new clubmate Lionel Messi in a South American grudge match after being named to the Brazil team on Friday for three World Cup qualifiers. 

Coach Tite also called up six members of the squad that retained the Olympic title by beating Spain in extra-time on August 7.

Dani Alves, who captained the Olympic squad, is joined by fellow gold medallists Matheus Cunha, who scored in the final, Richarlison, the tournament top scorer in Japan, Bruno Guimaraes, Guilherme Arana and Claudinho.

Brazil lead the 10-team South American World Cup qualifying group after six matches and face a busy week as the tournament tries to catch up after two rounds were postponed in March in the face of a coronavirus spike and international quarantine rules.

Brazil start with a trip to Santiago to play Chile on September 2, then take on Argentina in a re-arranged match in Sao Paulo three days later before travelling more than 2,200 kilometres north to Pernambuco to entertain Peru on September 9.

Since March, Argentina have beaten Brazil in the final of the Copa America in July at the Maracana and Argentine captain Messi has left Barcelona and joined Neymar at Paris Saint-Germain.

Tite’s team have won all six of their matches so far, conceding just two goals, but despite scoring 16 goals have rarely been exciting. They also looked lacklustre as they struggled to score in the knock-out stages of the Copa. 

Tite told a virtual press conference that while he was disappointed with the final outcome, he was happy at the way the squad had developed in the Copa.

He said Brazil “set some objectives in the Copa America, one of them was the title and we didn’t get it, but there were 23 athletes who participated in the competition” and the squad “modified its basic offensive structure.”

Of the Olympic call-ups, only the 38-year-old Alves, one of three permitted over-age squad members in Japan, is older than 24.

Tite said he was happy to promote younger players to the senior team. 

“When we have integration with the lower age groups, there is a similarity in the way players handle themselves, in the way we see football,” he said. 

“The young player who looks at the national team and sees the examples of the professionals is very important.”

Tite called up  24-year-old Leeds attacker Raphinha for the first time. 

“We have been monitoring Raphinha for a while,” said Tite. “He has a very strong dribbling technique, several important goals, he is a decisive player, he is what we call ‘the key to the goal’.”  

Tite will name his captain before the games. Neymar has led Brazil in the past. Thiago Silva captained the team in the Copa America. Casimeiro has also captained the side this year.

FIFA has extended the September and October international windows by two days to allow teams to catch up, much to the chagrin of European leagues, who dislike the long absences of their South American stars. 

Brazil squad

Goalkeepers: Alisson (Liverpool, ENG), Ederson (Manchester City, ENG), Weverton (Palmeiras). 

Defenders: Dani Alves (Sao Paulo), Danilo (Juventus, ITA), Alex Sandro (Juventus, ITA), Guilherme Arana (Atletico Mineiro), Eder Militao (Real Madrid, ESP), Lucas Verissimo (Benfica, POR), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain, FRA), Thiago Silva (Chelsea).

Midfielders: Casemiro (Real Madrid, ESP), Bruno Guimaraes (Lyon, FRA), Claudinho (Zenit, RUS), Everton Ribeiro (Flamengo), Fabinho (Liverpool, ING), Fred (Manchester United, ING), Lucas Paqueta (Lyon, FRA). 

Forwards: Roberto Firmino (Liverpool, ENG), Gabriel Barbosa (Flamengo), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City, ENG), Mateus Cunha (Hertha Berlin, GER), Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain, FRA), Raphinha (Leeds, ENG), Richarlison (Everton, ENG).