MOSCOW: Neymar is set to make his first start since February in Brazil’s final World Cup warm-up on Sunday as he battles for full fitness after Cristiano Ronaldo touched down in Russia with European champions Portugal.
And as the clock ticks down to Thursday’s World Cup opener in Moscow between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia, fancied teams France and Spain failed to impress in their final friendlies.
Neymar, who broke a bone in his foot in February, made an explosive return to action against Croatia in Liverpool last weekend, scoring a stunning goal in a 2-0 win for the five-time world champions after coming on as a substitute.
The Paris Saint-German star declared himself “80 percent” fit and Sunday’s run-out in Vienna should leave him fully primed for Brazil’s opener against Switzerland on June 17.
Brazil coach Tite is approaching Sunday’s game with a certain amount of trepidation.
“Emotionally, this match could be the most difficult,” he said. “That’s because it falls one week before our first World Cup game, and there’s a risk of injury, of a loss of confidence.”
Although Neymar has trained normally this week, he may not play the full 90 minutes in Vienna, according to the Selecao’s doctor, Rodrigo Lasmar.
Drawn in Group E, Brazil, who are second behind defending world champions Germany in the FIFA rankings, will face Costa Rica and Serbia after Switzerland.
Ronaldo’s Portugal arrived on Saturday to begin final preparations for a campaign that pits them against arch-rivals Spain in Group B.
The European champions play their Iberian neighbours in the 2014 Winter Olympics host city Sochi in the opening match for both nations on Friday.
– Ronaldo welcome –
Ronaldo and his compatriots received a traditional Russian welcome during a bread and salt ceremony upon arrival at their team base camp in Kratovo, a leafy village 40 kilometres (25 miles) southeast of Moscow.
Fernando Santos’s side will need no reminding of the importance of their opening match against Spain, after a 4-0 defeat by Germany in Brazil four years ago set the tone for a dismal group stage exit.
The winner on June 15 at Sochi’s Fisht Stadium will be in pole position to come out on top in a group that also includes Morocco and Iran.
The top two teams from each group qualify for the last 16.
The Spaniards laboured to a narrow 1-0 victory against Tunisia on Saturday at their base in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar.
Iago Aspas scored the only goal for the 2010 champions against fellow World Cup qualifiers Tunisia seven minutes from the end.
France looked flat in a 1-1 draw against the United States in Lyon on Saturday, despite an improved performance from Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba.
Julian Green gave the US, who failed to qualify for Russia, the lead on the stroke of half-time but Paris Saint-Germain teenager Kylian Mbappe equalised for the hosts.
Pogba had been jeered a week ago in a 3-1 victory over Italy but it was his pass that teed up Mbappe to save face for the Euro 2016 finalists in a match they were expected to win.
“We lacked a bit of juice. But we created enough chances to win,” coach Didier Deschamps told TF1.
“But that’s the way it goes, against a young United States team that was very generous, who didn’t leave us a lot of space and tried to defend well.”