By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Sunday, June 3rd, the hopes of Brazilian football (soccer) fans around the world reached new heights as Neymar made his long-awaited return to the pitch scoring the opening goal in the Brazilian national team’s (seleção) 2-0 victory over Croatia in Liverpool, England.
Yesterday’s pre-World Cup warm-up marked Neymar’s first game since February 25th when he fractured his fifth metatarsal while playing for Paris Saint-Germain.
As expected, the superstar striker started yesterday’s match on the sidelines. Both teams struggled offensively in the first period with neither club able to find the back of the net.
Neymar came off the bench to start the second and made an immediate impact, almost scoring from a curling right-footed shot from long-range.
Finally, at the 68th minute, he received the ball from Coutinho, deftly dribbled past several Croatian defenders and launched a rocket that clanged off the crossbar and into the net to give Brazil the 1-0 lead.
Perhaps the biggest ovation of the night however was reserved for Liverpool FC’s own Roberto Firmino, who scored the game’s second goal at the 90-minute mark to the delight of the hometown fans in attendance at Anfield.
After the 2-0 win, Brazil head coach Tite told reporters that while Neymar’s performance exceeded the club’s expectations, it will take time for him to return to 100 percent.
“He came back better than I expected. I expected much less, because it is a process,” said Tite. “He has to go through stages. He is going to have ups and downs. By the third, fourth or fifth game then he will be back to his level.”
The head coach added, “[Neymar] is a player that is different than the rest but he can’t be given all the responsibility to decide the game. That’s not humane, he is a key part but not everything.”
Brazil next will face Austria in their last pre-World Cup friendly on June 10th before officially kicking off its World Cup campaign on June 17th against Switzerland.