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Neymar makes emphatic return as Brazil see off Croatia

Pin Neymar and Firmino were both on target against Croatia. AFP
Neymar and Firmino were both on target against Croatia. AFP

Neymar makes emphatic return as Brazil see off Croatia

With the sun beating down on Merseyside, Brazil locked horns with Croatia in a not-so-friendly friendly ahead of the fast-approaching World Cup.

At kick-off, Anfield was brimming with talent as four Champions League finalists and three Premier League winners lined-up to belt out their national anthems.

A few early flashes of ‘joga bonito’ from Willian set a misleading tone for a first-half that would end up less than impressive. Croatia opted to play rough and, every time the Brazilian’s started to charge up an attack, they were impeded by chequered shirts.

The best chance of the half fell to Dejan Lovren who guided a free header wide of the target. A miss he would end up ruing.

Not the friendliest of warm-up games, referee Michael Oliver handed out three yellow cards in the first half for a range of offences ranging from old-school hacking to a boot to the skull.

- Cue Neymar -

After waiting impatiently on the bench like a greyhound in the traps, Neymar was unleashed.

Rather than putting the cat amongst the pigeons, Neymar’s introduction at half-time seemed more like lobbing a pigeon down a feline-filled backstreet. Three months after suffering one of the game’s most publicised injuries, Tite sent his star on to face a physical Croatia side.

Nevertheless, just 24 minutes into his return, Neymar showed himself to be unfazed. Three months after undergoing surgery, the €222million man wriggled free of his marker, weaved in and out of some statuesque Croatian defending and lashed the ball in off the underside of the crossbar to open the scoring. 1-0.

A second-half characterised by endless (well, 11) substitutions stopped the game from flowing and the action was sporadic for the fans in attendance.

On 88 minutes, Firmino had a chance to double Brazil’s lead after Taison slipped him through, but he leathered his effort high and wide. That said, the Liverpool forward was determined to grab a goal on home soil.

With seconds left on the clock, Firmino plucked the ball out of the air on his chest and poked it over Subasic who had come dashing out from between the sticks. 2-0 and a tidy way to round off a rather uninspiring World Cup dress rehearsal.

Thomas Davidson

Thomas Davidson

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