Brazil coach Tite said he will not tell Neymar to be more of a team player as he insisted the Paris Saint-Germain star is fit for Friday’s crunch World Cup clash with Costa Rica.
The world’s most expensive player had been an injury doubt after hobbling out of training on Tuesday with an ankle problem, 48 hours after he was on the end of 10 fouls from robust Swiss opponents as Brazil opened their campaign with a disappointing 1-1 draw.
But Tite confirmed he will put his faith in the same XI that started against Switzerland in Saint Petersburg as Brazil look to kickstart their quest for a sixth World Cup.
In their desperation for a breakthrough in the final stages against the Swiss, Neymar’s team-mates consistently looked to their star man to provide the final finish or pass without success.
And he was criticised for being self-indulgent, often taking too many touches to try and beat Swiss right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner instead of moving the ball on quickly to teammates.
– ‘Genius’ –
Tite, though, strongly refuted reports he has asked Neymar to play more in the team’s best interests.
“Absolutely not. The information you got is not true,” Tite responded to a Brazilian journalist. “All of the players have this responsibility of playing for the collective (good) and being individuals.
“I’m not going to take away from him his genius in the last third of the pitch. That applies to Coutinho, Jesus, Willian and Firmino too.
“You have to strengthen the team but I’m not going to take away the main characteristics of the players.”
Neymar’s latest injury scare intensified concerns over his match fitness after a broken bone in his right foot ended his club season in February.
He returned and scored in World Cup warm-up friendly wins against Croatia and Austria, but did not complete 90 minutes until facing Switzerland.
Tite admitted it could take until five games into his return for Neymar to be back to his best, but insisted he was not taking a risk by throwing him back into a highly pressurised environment.
“We want to win, it’s a World Cup, but the coach is not going to play with the players’ health. It’s too big a risk.”
Despite Neymar’s fitness concerns, Costa Rica coach Oscar Ramírez claimed his players will not target him in the same way the Swiss did.
“In the case of Neymar he is a very skilful player so people look to stop him with rough tactics. I wouldn’t like to use rough tactics, I think there are ways to perform and the boys are clear how we need to play,” said Ramirez.
Costa Rica reached the quarter-finals in Brazil four years ago, but are also in desperate need of the points after losing 1-0 to Serbia to open their campaign.
Brazil are not alone among the pre-tournament favourites in having a slow start in Russia and Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz is hoping his side too can cause an upset to keep their chances of qualifying for the last 16 alive.
“You’ve seen already there have been plenty of surprises,” said the Sporting Lisbon playmaker. “We don’t have no chance. We need to at least draw to continue with a chance.”