Neymar has admitted he feared his World Cup was over after spraining his ankle two weeks ago and paid tribute to the Brazil medical staff as he made a goalscoring return in their 4-1 rout of South Korea to help earn a quarter-final date with Croatia on Friday.
Goals by Vínicius Júnior, Neymar, Richarlison and Lucas Paquetá helped Brazil into a four-goal lead within 36 minutes before a second-half thunderbolt by Paik Seung-ho proved a consolation for South Korea, whose manager, Paulo Bento, announced he is quitting following their last-16 exit.
At full time, Neymar, who converted a first-half penalty to move within a goal of Pelé’s goalscoring record, carried a banner bearing the Brazil legend’s name on to the pitch. Pelé is in hospital but one of his daughters has denied the 82-year-old is under palliative care. “It’s hard to put it into words,” Neymar said. “I wish Pelé the best. He will become healthier very soon, I am sure.”
Neymar worried about his tournament after sustaining injury against Serbia. “I was thinking of a million different things,” he said. “I was afraid of not being able to play in this World Cup again but I have the support of all of my colleagues, my family and I tried to look for strength where I could not find it. When I was reading all of the messages of encouragement, it helped my recovery.”
After scoring, Richarlison headed for the Brazil bench to celebrate with Tite, who joined his players for a Samba dance, which the 61-year-old head coach practised at the team hotel. “I try to adapt to my players,” Tite said.
“They are very young and have a love of dancing, joking and making moves. They said I had to learn how to do the moves. They’re very tight and difficult, but we kept playing around. Richarlison was there and I said: ‘What’s that dance?’ I said: ‘If you do it, then I’ll do it.’ There are various people who will say it was disrespectful. I know there’s always a camera and I didn’t want it to be misinterpreted.”
Tite made five changes during the game, including the introduction of Weverton in place of Alisson with 10 minutes to play. As a result, all 26 members of the Brazil squad, including three goalkeepers have now featured in Qatar, becoming the first team in World Cup history to use as many as 26 at a finals. “It is very difficult to substitute a goalkeeper but when we have the opportunity it is very good because it makes the whole team happy,” Tite said.
Bento said he will resign following their exit, with the Portuguese confirming he made his mind up in September to walk away after their World Cup campaign concluded. “I have just announced to the players and to the president of the confederation that I had already taken [the decision] since September,” Bento said.
“This was a decision that was set in stone and today I have just confirmed it. I have to thank them for everything they [the players] have done and they have given their very best. I’m very proud to have been their manager.”