ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia: Neymar makes his World Cup bow on Sunday as five-time winners Brazil kick off their quest for redemption while defending champions Germany launch their bid for back-to-back titles.
Four years after injury cut short his World Cup and Brazil went on to suffer a humiliating 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany without him, Neymar is once again spearheading his country’s hopes.
The Paris Saint-Germain striker’s participation at the finals in Russia had been cast into doubt after he suffered a broken bone in his right foot in late February.
However, the 26-year-old forward has shown few signs of rust since returning for Brazil, scoring in consecutive friendlies on the eve of the finals.
That could spell trouble for Switzerland as they take on Brazil in Group E on Sunday.
Brazil coach Tite, who masterminded a dominant qualifying campaign that saw the “Selecao” finish 10 points clear of their rivals, said Neymar was “not 100 percent”.
“But he has exceptional physical qualities, his speed in particular. In any case, he is in a suitable state to play,” Tite said.
Neymar is the focal point of one of the most menacing attacks in the tournament, and could line up in a front four that includes Gabriel Jesus, Philippe Coutinho and Willian.
Brazil meet Switzerland in the newly built 45,000 Rostov Arena in Sunday’s evening game but before that Germany play Mexico in a mouthwatering tie in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, where they will be hoping to return for the final on July 15.