Brazil coach Tite says Neymar is back to his best as the five-time champions take on Mexico here on Monday for a place in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Neymar has made a slow start to the tournament, showing glimpses of skill but drawing criticism for diving in an attempt to win a penalty against Costa Rica.
But the Paris Saint-Germain forward has steadily silenced his detractors, scoring Brazil’s second goal in a laboured 2-0 win over Costa Rica before providing the corner for Thiago Silva’s powerful header that capped a valuable 2-0 win over Serbia.
Four years after a 7-1 humiliation by eventual champions Germany in the semi-finals, Brazil have emerged as one of the most rounded teams still in the competition.
And Neymar, said Tite, is more than ready following his return from a lengthy injury lay-off shortly before the tournament.
“Now, he’s returned to a very high level,” Tite said at Samara Arena on Sunday. “He’s played a lot… I told him, and he knows, about the price he’s had to pay to get back to this level.
“We knew he would need to play a few games, but he’s back.”
Tite meanwhile confirmed his starting 11 on the eve of the match, bringing in Filipe Luis for Marcelo, who hobbled off with back spasms against Serbia.
Tite said Marcelo had been desperate to play in the last 16 clash.
“We can’t take any risks in such an important game. We don’t pay for health care,” Tite said.
Meanwhile, Brazil defensive linchpin Thiago Silva said he hoped Neymar would follow in the footsteps of PSG team-mates Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Angel Di Maria, who scored five goals between them in Saturday’s last 16 games.
“Yesterday when the games finished I thought… maybe in our game it’s going to be the same with Neymar,” Silva said.
“We hope we’ll be as inspired as those other strikers.”
Yet Silva quickly underlined the threat of the determined Mexicans, who helped eliminate defending champions Germany in the first phase.
“It will be a difficult game. Mexico have so far shown they deserve to be here, as do we,” added Silva, who identified El Tri’s record scorer Javier Hernandez as the danger man.
“I know Chicharito (Hernandez) well, and we know about his qualities. We have to minimise the possibility for the ball to get through to them,” Silva said.