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Under-cooked Neymar hobbled by Swiss as Brazil stumble

Petkovic wants more recognition

SAINT PETERSBURG, June 18, (Agencies): Battered and bruised by a barrage of Swiss fouls, Neymar hobbled out of the Rostov Arena after failing to inspire Brazil to victory in their World Cup opener.

The world’s most expensive player said his latest knock is “nothing to worry about” but there is concern over whether he can perform to the levels needed to lead his country to a sixth World Cup title after four months out of competitive football.

Neymar’s club season with Paris Saint-Germain ended when he broke a bone in his foot in February.

To the frustration of many in the French capital, he spent much of his recovery time back in Brazil with the intention of getting in the best shape possible for a potentially career-defining tournament.

A stunning individual run and finish on his return in a pre-tournament friendly against Croatia and his 55th international goal against Austria a week later appeared to ease fears over his fitness.

But as many of the fancied teams at the World Cup have found so far in Russia, friendly performances mean little when the competition kicks off for real and Brazil were found wanting against an aggressive and well-organised Swiss side.

Neymar was fouled 10 times, more than any player in a single World Cup match since Alan Shearer 20 years ago, and provoked Switzerland’s three yellow cards for Stephan Lichtsteiner, Fabian Schaer and Valon Behrami.

Mexican referee Cesar Ramos’ handling of the Swiss tactics divided opinion among fans and commentators as some called for greater protection for one of the world’s best players, while many believed Neymar was too quick to go to ground.

“I was a little bit worried about the referee,” said Arsenal full-back Lichtsteiner.

“Every time they fell down it was a whistle, a foul. This was a bit of a challenge. You think ‘don’t be too aggressive’ because every time they go down it’s a foul.”

Given the success of Switzerland’s rugged approach, Neymar can expect more of the same against Costa Rica and Serbia, with the pressure on Brazil to rediscover the form they showed in qualifying.

Brazil’s transformation in two years under coach Tite has been characterised by the speed of their transitions from defence to attack as Neymar combined to great effect with Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho.

Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic said his team deserved more recognition after they held five-times champions Brazil to a 1-1 draw in their opening World Cup match on Sunday.

“I hope they start looking up and taking notice of us and taking us seriously,” said Petkovic, whose side held Spain to the same score in a warm-up friendly.

“Sometimes, there is a lack of recognition and that is a pity.

“Playing against Brazil and Spain, we demonstrated we could react, that this team always believes in itself and can get results. We will continue to play with this consistency.”

Switzerland have lost only one out of 12 competitive matches since Euro 2016 — a World Cup qualifier away to Portugal. “I hoped that we would do what we didn’t against Portugal, that we would play our game and try to impose our way of playing,” he said.

“I think the team has shown great determination and I’m very, very happy.”

“In the first half we encountered some difficulties, we were not able to put into practice what we wanted, and we invited the opponent to be dangerous,” he said.

“In the second half, I told them to remain calm, focused, believe in ourselves and try and push higher up on the pitch and create possibilities and opportunities to score, and that’s what we did.”

Switzerland now face Serbia and then Costa Rica in Group E after taking a valuable point off the Brazilians.

Petkovic also said there was nothing wrong with Steven Zuber’s equaliser on Sunday despite Brazilian claims that a defender was pushed.

“He looked to create space and create opportunity, and I think the opposing defence’s players were not well-positioned,” he said.

“I am very proud and pleased with the way in which my team played against such good opponents.”

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