SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil coach Tite and his players are doing their best to boost Neymar’s morale after the striker’s recent struggles at Paris Saint-Germain, where he has been booed by his own fans.
Neymar and Argentina great Lionel Messi have both faced heavy criticism in Paris after the team’s loss to Real Madrid in the round of 16 of the Champions League. But ahead of the team’s final two World Cup qualifiers, Brazil coach Tite is hoping Neymar can forget about his club’s troubles and rediscover his best form. Brazil has already qualified for this year’s tournament in Qatar, meaning Neymar won’t be facing the same level of scrutiny.
“Many athletes had setbacks in their clubs,” said Tite. “Maybe the expectations around the big name, the big star, Neymar, are more evident. But everyone faces pressure at their clubs. And we have our pressure (with the national team). We will not bring pressure from others to a task that is already a big responsibility.”
Neymar remains Brazil’s biggest star, but fans and media at home are also starting to question whether the 30-year-old has what it takes to lead Brazil to a sixth World Cup title in Qatar.
Repeatedly asked about Neymar’s mood in a news conference on Wednesday, Tite said “the realities of the club are of one kind and in the national team they are another.”
But he refused to disclose what his recent conversations with Neymar have been like.
“These are very intimate things, things of the inside of a locker room, private. If a coach of mine exposed my problems publicly when I was an athlete I would ask him to talk to me first,” Tite said.
Two of Brazil’s training sessions ahead of Thursday’s game against Chile at the Maracanã Stadium suggest that Neymar will play as a target man, sided by Vinicius Junior and Antony.
Forwards Matheus Cunha and Roberto Firmino, two frequent starters that will not be in Rio de Janeiro for the match, have not delivered many goals to the Seleção recently.
“Neymar has had a structure in the national team for a long time so he can power his creativity,” Tite said. “What we are looking for is some harmony, some balance for our men to be creative up front and our men in the back to be consistent.”
Midfielder Lucas Paquetá, one of Neymar’s closest friends in the national team, also came to his defense during a news conference on Tuesday.
“Having him with us a priviledge. When I have Neymar on my side I feel much stronger, and so do my teammates. It is the same for him when he is with the national team,” Paquetá said. “We motivate each other more, we hold each other more, that makes us stronger.”
Winger Antony struck a similar note.
“We are happy to have Neymar back, he is a great player and an inspiration to us all,” Antony said. “We know how good he is and that this squad depends on him too.”
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