By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Less than one week ahead of the biggest sporting event in the world, Brazil once again received a big boost from Neymar who marked his return to the starting lineup with a brilliant goal leading to the 3-0 win over Austria in the club’s final friendly before the 2018 World Cup.
Last Sunday, June 3rd, Neymar had come off the bench to score in the seleção’s 2-0 win over Croatia in Liverpool. It was the star forward’s first appearance since suffering a metatarsal fracture playing for Paris Saint-Germain in February.
A raucous crowd of almost 50,000 were on hand yesterday to greet the five-time champions at Ernst Happel Stadion in Vienna.
Brazil were given a few frights early on thanks to Austria’s physical play, especially on Neymar, who the Austrians sent tumbling to the ground on several occasions.
The seleção would draw first blood at the 36th minute when Marcelo’s shot rebounded perfectly to Gabriel Jesus who promptly scored on a bender into the far corner for the 1-0 lead.
To the collective relief of all of Brazil, Neymar looked none the worse for wear despite the host’s bruising play. At the 62nd minute, off a counter-attack, Neymar received the ball, brilliantly faked the defender to the ground, and easily slotted the ball through the legs of Austrian keeper Heinz Lindner to double the lead.
Coutinho would top off the game at the 69th minute, driving into the box and calmly tucking the ball into the far post to seal the 3-0 win.
Neymar’s goal was his 55th goal for Brazil, tying him with Romario for the third-most in team history, behind only Pelé (77) and Ronaldo (62).
“I don’t know Neymar’s limits,” exclaimed Brazil head coach Tite after the game. “His technical and creative capacity is impressive. When we get him in the last third of the field he is lethal.”
Of Austria’s physical play, “We got ready for the UFC today, but it was good,” said Neymar. “Everyone was unharmed.”
Brazil kick off their 2018 World Cup campaign against Switzerland next Sunday, June 17th in the Rostov Arena in Rostov-On-Don.