DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Welcome back, Neymar, to the right time at the World Cup.
Neymar looked healthy in training ahead of Monday’s game against South Korea in the round of 16. The striker has missed the last two group stage matches after injuring his right ankle in the opener against Serbia.
Brazil easily advanced to the next round without Neymar. No longer hampered by his ankle, Neymar had to start – and not come off the bench as a precaution – if he plays against South Korea.
“I prefer to use my best player from the start,” Brazilian coach Tite said. “It’s the coach who has to make that decision and take that responsibility.”
In footage released by the Brazilian Football Federation, he appeared to be in good condition, exercising with the ball and shooting on goal with no signs of injury.
“Obviously we won’t say it’s better to face Brazil when Neymar is playing, but I always prefer when the best players are there,” said South Korean coach Paulo Bento.
Bento was unhappy with the three-day rest period between matches from the group stage to the round of 16. Brazil advanced with one game to spare and were able to rest the stars of the team in their last game, but South Korea had to fight their way into the knockout stages with a win over Portugal.
“It’s not fair,” Bento said. “I think it has to do with the new reality of FIFA, which is to create worse conditions for the less favored teams and probably better conditions for the more favored ones.”
Even after the shock win over Portugal, South Korea had to wait over nine agonizing minutes of extra time for a game against Qatar to end. Uruguay’s result against Ghana determined whether the South Koreans would advance to the knockout stages.
When Uruguay failed to score the goals they needed to beat South Korea for the final Group H spot, the South Korean players who had formed a circle on the pitch to watch the match on the phones erupted in joyful celebration.
South Korean captain Son Heung-min even started crying.
South Korea are now trying to get past the knockout stages for the first time since the Asian side’s historic run as co-hosts in 2002, when they reached the semi-finals and finished fourth. South Korea were knocked out in the group stages in 2014 and 2018.
South Korea advanced by beating Portugal 2-1 thanks to a spectacular stoppage-time goal from second-half substitute Hwang Hee-chan. He is expected to be in the starting line-up again against Brazil after missing the team’s first two games with a hamstring injury.
“In the first game, it was impossible for me to play and the pain got worse. I ran a bit, but I thought I could play the second game, but they held me down,” Hwang said. , adding that playing against Portugal “was a bit risky. But I didn’t care what happened to me personally. I just wanted to contribute.”
This will be the first official meeting between Brazil and South Korea, with the South Americans winning six of seven friendlies. South Korea were victorious in 1999.
“We can’t think it will be as easy a match as in this friendly,” Brazil captain Thiago Silva said. “Now it’s the World Cup and they advanced in a very tough group. We have a lot of respect for them.”
Japan and Croatia meet for the first time in the round of 16 of the World Cup after the teams faced each other twice in the group. Croatia won in 1998 and the teams finished goalless eight years later.
This time, Japan won Group E after 2-1 victories over Germany and Spain and are in the round of 16 for back-to-back tournaments for the first time in team history.
At stake for Japan is their first trip to the quarter-finals in four tries.
“Japan is a team that doesn’t give up,” said Croatian coach Zlatko Dalić. “They conceded early in the game against Germany and Spain, but they came back. They had a lot of self-confidence, and that’s a great virtue of the Japan national team.”
Croatia, vice-champion of France at the 2018 World Cup, made their third appearance in the round of 16. Croatia beat Romania in 1998 to advance to the semi-finals and beat Denmark 3-2 on penalties in 2018 en route to the final game – a 4-2 loss to defending champions France. world Cup.
This is the first time Croatia will face an Asian side in a World Cup knockout tie after eight previous matches against European sides.
“For us it will be essential that we are also disciplined and patient,” Dalić said. “We can’t make mistakes because Japan have the quality to punish those mistakes. We have to be good at backing up if we lose the ball.
Croatia advanced despite two goalless draws in the group – equaling the number of scoreless games they played in the 2006, 2014 and 2018 tournaments, over a span of 13 games.
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Brazil’s Neymar trains during a training session at the Grand Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar on Sunday, December 4, 2022. Brazil will face South Korea in the FIFA World Cup Round of 16 on December 5 december. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
South Korea’s Son Heung-min warms up during South Korea’s official training on the eve of the FIFA World Cup Round of 16 match between Brazil and South Korea at the training site Al Egla 5 in Doha, Qatar on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022 (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
South Korea’s Kim Young-gwon, third from left, warms up during South Korea’s official training on the eve of the FIFA World Cup round of 16 between Brazil and Korea South at Al Egla Training Site 5 in Doha, Qatar on Sunday. Dec. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)