DOHA ( Associated Press) – Whether Neymar is in the starting eleven, on the bench or rested for a third straight game will depend on his performance in Monday’s final training session before Brazil’s round of 16 game between Brazil and South Korea.
The Brazilian star missed two group stage matches after injuring his right ankle on his debut against Serbia in Qatar. He returned to training with the group on Saturday but it is unclear whether he will be fit to face the South Koreans.
“He will practice this afternoon, and if he practices well, he will play,” Tite said before practice on Sunday.
The coach indicated that if Neymar’s condition allows it, he plans to line-up him from the start rather than ousting him as a substitute.
“I prefer to have my best players from the start,” he said. “It is the coach who has to make the decision and take responsibility.”
Brazil struggled without a striker in playmaking, but finished first in the group despite losing to Cameroon on the final day of the group stage.
South Korea earned their first berth in the last 16 in 12 years after Cristiano Ronaldo’s stunning victory over Portugal in the previous clash.
Neymar’s tests after the match with Serbia showed ligament damage in his right ankle, and it was unclear whether he would be able to play again in Qatar. His ankle looked bad, was very swollen, and doctors could not tell whether he would be able to recover in time.
But after intensive physiotherapy treatment, he recovered and was able to return to training on Saturday. In images distributed by the Brazilian Football Confederation, he appears to be in good shape, exercising with the ball and shooting on goal without any obvious signs of injury.
Midfielder Fred took his place against Switzerland. With Brazil already classified, Tite replaced the entire team against Cameroon.
Monday will be the first official match between the two teams, but Brazil have won six of the seven friendlies they have played so far. South Korea’s only victory came in 1999.
South Korea progressed to the knockout stage thanks to a dramatic stoppage time goal by Hwang Hee-chan, who won 2–1 over Portugal after drawing 0–0 with Uruguay and losing to Ghana.
Hwang is expected to start against Brazil after missing the first two games with a hamstring injury.
The South Koreans will be seeking to advance past the last 16 for the first time since their historic performance in 2002, when they finished fourth as co-hosts. They didn’t make it past the group stage both in 2014 and in Russia four years ago.
Brazil is aiming to win its first World Cup since 2002. The Selecao has reached at least the quarter-finals in every tournament since then, and their best result was the World Cup semi-finals held in 2014.
The winner will face either 2018 finalists Japan or Croatia in the next round.