ROSTOV-ON-DON, RUSSIA — Brazil star Neymar will make his World Cup bow on Sunday as the five-time champion kicks off quest for redemption while holders Germany launch their bid for back-to-back titles.
Four years after injury cut short his World Cup, before Brazil suffered a humiliating 7-1 semifinal defeat to Germany, Neymar is once again spearheading his country’s hopes.
The Paris Saint-Germain striker’s participation at the finals in Russia had been cast into doubt after he suffered a fractured right foot in late February.
However, the 26-year-old forward has shown little signs of rust since returning for Brazil, scoring in consecutive friendlies on the eve of the finals.
That could spell trouble for Switzerland as they take on Brazil in Group E on Sunday.
Brazil coach Tite, who masterminded a dominant qualifying campaign which saw the “Selecao” finish 10 points clear of their rivals, said Neymar was “not 100%.”
“But he has exceptional physical qualities, his speed in particular. In any case, he is in a suitable state to play,” Tite said.
Neymar is the focal point of one of the most menacing attacks in the tournament, and could line up in a front four which includes Gabriel Jesus, Philippe Coutinho and Willian.
Switzerland, meanwhile, have regularly shown they are capable of punching above their weight, having only narrowly missed out on automatic qualification to Russia on goal difference behind Portugal.
Since securing their place via the playoffs, they have held Spain to a 1-1 draw and thrashed World Cup debutants Panama 6-0 in friendlies.
The Swiss also have pedigree in opening World Cup games, beating eventual champions Spain in their opener of the 2010 World Cup.
Brazil meet Switzerland in the newly built 45,000 Rostov Arena in Sunday’s evening game but before that Germany play Mexico in a mouth-watering tie in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. — AFP