FIFA World Cup

Returning Neymar to spearhead challenge as Brazil name shortlisted 23-member World Cup squad

The star striker has been out since requiring surgery for a broken bone in his foot while playing for PSG, and is only now easing back into training.

Striker Neymar, who hasn’t played since injury in February, was named on Monday as the star of a Brazilian team that coach Tite said has a good chance of winning the World Cup in Russia.

“Brazil is one of the favorites given the football it has shown, given its consistency,” Tite said at the team announcement in Rio de Janeiro.

He said the national team, seeking a record sixth World Cup, stands out for being “aggressive, scoring goals.”

“That’s not being arrogant, it’s just telling the truth,” Tite said.

Neymar’s return to form will be a key factor. He has been out since requiring surgery for a broken bone in his foot while playing for Paris Saint-Germain, and is only now easing back into training.

Team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar said he was hopeful, with the bone’s healing making “excellent progress.”

Neymar should be able to “regain match fitness” when he takes part in friendlies against Croatia on June 3 and Austria on June 10, Lasmar said.

Brazil will need him showing all the skills that made him the world’s most expensive footballer, with a record 222 million euros ($264 million) transfer from Barcelona to PSG last August.

“We will be a good deal stronger with Neymar. He’s one of the three best players in the world, but for him to be at his peak he needs a solid team around him,” Tite said.

Last week, the team suffered the loss of influential right-back Dani Alves to a knee injury.

In Tite’s 23-man squad Alves place has been comfortably covered by the presence of two men of similar abilities in Danilo of Manchester City and Fagner, whom Tite knows from his time at the helm of Corinthians’ 2015 national championship-winning team.

Fagner is currently carrying an injury of his own but has been cleared by Lasmar to play in Russia.

Tite praised PSG’s Alves for his “enormous heart, his exemplary courage,” but said the player’s disappointment had to be set aside.

“We can’t cry over those who are absent. We have to concentrate on preparing,” Tite said.

After sweeping aside South American opponents in the World Cup qualifiers, Brazil are seen as one of the strongest sides at the World Cup.

The ‘Selecao’s’ current winning ways return the team to the vibe it enjoyed for decades until a slack period that reached a nadir during Brazil’s hosting of the 2014 World Cup, when the national side crashed out of the semi-finals 7-1 to Germany.

Brazil’s hugely unpopular president, Michel Temer, tweeted his support after the team announcement.

“With all due respect to our Russian hosts and friends, and with humility, please bring the trophy home,” he said.

Their campaign begins against Switzerland on June 17.

Brazil squad

Goalkeepers: Alisson (Roma/ITA), Cassio (Corinthians/BRA), Ederson (Man City/ENG),

Defenders: Danilo (Man City/ENG), Fagner (Corinthians), Marcelo (Real Madrid/ESP), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid/ESP), Miranda (Inter Milan/ITA), Marquinhos (PSG/FRA), Thiago Silva (PSG/FRA), Geromel (Gremio)

Midfielders: Casemiro (Real Madrid/ESP), Fernandinho (Man City/ENG), Paulinho (Barcelona/ESP), Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan/CHN), Fred (Shakhtar Donestk/UKR), Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona/ESP), Willian (Chelsea/ENG)

Forwards: Neymar (PSG/FRA), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City/ENG), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool/ENG), Douglas Costa (Juventus/ITA), Taison (Shakhtar Donestk/UKR)

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