Brazil head coach Tite believes Neymar has returned to his best form as the five-time champions prepare to take on Mexico in the last 16.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward sustained a broken metatarsal in February, meaning his build-up for Russia 2018 was far from ideal, although he regained fitness in time to start all of the Selecao’s three Group E matches, scoring one goal.
In his pre-match media conference, Tite confirmed the starting XI against Mexico in Samara on Monday would be largely the same as that which finished the game against Serbia last time out, with Filipe Luis set to retain his place ahead of Marcelo, who went off with back spasms.
And Tite believes Neymar is only now showing his true self after a gruelling season with PSG.
“There’s dressing room conversations, some things I can’t say, others I will,” he said. “He played a lot, too much, and we know the price he paid to resume this level of performance.
“He played very well and he played similarly to what he’s been doing before which is difficult so when I said there’s a need to take on expectation…I’m not talking about tomorrow, I’m talking about now.
“He played fantastically, he helped marked the wings, transition with the ball…tomorrow I don’t know but right now yes he’s resumed his top performance.”
Rabisca filhote pic.twitter.com/jf9TqGdNSo
— Neymar Jr (@neymarjr) 29 June 2018
Alongside Tite in the media conference was fitness coach Fabio Mahseredjian, who is encouraged by the improvement he has seen from the world’s most expensive player.
“You have a tracking system which gives out data so during the match I have all those data and there was an evolution [against Serbia],” Mahseredjian said.
“Even with this he already had an average that was superior to his team-mates, not the same as his full performance, but he’s close and almost at his full potential.
“This evolution makes us happy, knowing the work was done like I told you before.
“He needed five or six matches and I hope he continues to evolve more and more but where he’s going to get I don’t know.”
As for Marcelo, Tite said the decision was taken to leave him out as the medical staff were not convinced the full-back would last the distance should the match go to extra time.
“What the coach cannot do is put a player under so much pressure with this kind of insecurity,” Tite said.
“I told him it’s amazing, he could be hiding, but no, he wants to participate and that shows his responsibility and commitment to the team, and I told him that. However, the coach cannot [pick a player], based on 45 or 60 minutes, for a decisive match like this.”
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