VIENNA, June 10, (AFP): Neymar marked his return to the starting line-up with another brilliant goal as Brazil eased to a 3-0 win over Austria in Vienna on Sunday in their final friendly ahead of the World Cup.
Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho netted either side of Neymar’s strike at the Ernst Happel Stadion, as the world’s most expensive player confirmed his return to fitness following a foot operation three months ago.
It was an encouraging way for Tite’s side to complete their preparations before their departure for their base in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi.
The Brazilians were due to arrive there in the early hours of Monday, ahead of their opening game at the tournament against Switzerland next Sunday.
Neymar’s goal was his 55th in a Brazil shirt, allowing him to draw level with Romario on his country’s list of all-time leading scorers — only the great Pele and Ronaldo have scored more goals for Brazil than the Paris Saint-Germain superstar.
The 26-year-old had come off the bench to score in last weekend’s 2-0 win over Croatia in Liverpool, his first appearance since suffering a foot fracture playing for PSG in February and then returning to his homeland for surgery.
He played 84 minutes in the Austrian capital after replacing Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho in the starting line-up, surviving a couple of bruising challenges from Austria’s Watford defender Sebastian Proedl, who was booked in the second half.
Brazil, wearing black armbands in tribute to the country’s tennis legend Maria Esther Bueno who died on Friday aged 78, had chances to go in front before Jesus opened the scoring in the 36th minute. Marcelo’s long-range shot was blocked, but the ball fell to Jesus inside the area and the Manchester City striker took a touch before finishing beautifully past Heinz Lindner in the Austrian goal.
Jesus is Brazil’s leading scorer under Tite’s management, ahead of Neymar, who got his name on the scoresheet in the 63rd minute.
It was a quite superb effort, the former Barcelona man controlling Willian’s chipped pass on his thigh just inside the box and then leaving Austrian defender Aleksandar Dragovic on the floor with some delightful footwork before rolling the ball home.
Tempers had flared just before that with the Brazilians taking exception to tasty tackles on Neymar and Coutinho.
But their class told in the end as Neymar’s goal was followed by a fine effort from Coutinho, who later also hit the bar from long range.
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.
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.”
Australia on Sunday finally arrived at their base in chilly Kazan, where the ‘Socceroos’ will begin preparations for what many pundits believe will be yet another early departure from the World Cup.
Scheduled to meet highly-fancied France in their World Cup opener on June 16, Bert Van Marwijk’s men touched down shortly after midday and made the short trip from Kazan airport to their hotel and training complex a few kilometres from the centre of the colourful, windswept Tatar city.
Australia, whose best World Cup performance was reaching the last 16 under Guus Hiddink in 2006, are based at the Trudovye Rezervy Stadium, the training centre of local top ice-hockey side Ak Bars Kazan.
Van Marwijk’s greatest moment was leading the Netherlands to the World Cup final in 2010, when the ‘Oranje’ were beaten 1-0 by Spain in South Africa.
But this current Australia crop would only seriously begin to impress home fans if they managed to qualify from a Group C also featuring Denmark and Peru. French President Emmanuel Macron said in a television interview broadcast on Sunday that he would go to Russia “when France reached the quarter-finals”.
“I will go to support them,” Macron told the Telefoot weekly programme, without allowing for the possibility that France might be knocked out before then.
Macron also envisioned himself alongside manager Didier Deschamps in the French dressing room in Moscow before the final on July 15.
“First I’ll let Didier Deschamps talk to them and I’ll think very hard about the three words … ‘Unity, effort and confidence’,” Macron said, repeating the phrase he used when he visited Les Bleus last Tuesday at their training centre in Clairefontaine, near Paris.
“I have confidence in them,” he said. “I sensed a team that wanted to succeed and bring back the cup.
“We’re not going just to participate, we are going to win,” said the president, echoing a sentiment he expressed when he asked the squad to “bring back a second star”.
In 1998, Jacques Chirac became the first French president to visit the French squad before a World Cup when he went to Clairefontaine. He also joined them in the dressing room after they had won the final.