DOHA, Qatar — Whether Neymar is in the lineup, on the bench or resting for a third consecutive game will depend on how he performs in Brazil's last training session ahead of its round-of-16 match against South Korea on Monday at the World Cup.
The Brazil star missed two group-stage matches with a right ankle injury he received in the team's opening win against Serbia. He was back training with teammates on Saturday, but it remains unclear whether he's fit enough to play against South Korea.
“He will train this afternoon, and if he trains well, he will play,” Tite said ahead of the team's practice session on Sunday.
Tite said he planned to use Neymar from the start instead of as a substitute if he's healthy enough to play.
“I prefer to use my best player from the start,” Tite said. “It’s the coach who has to make that decision and take on that responsibility.”
Brazil struggled without the playmaker but still won its group despite a loss to Cameroon in the last match.
South Korea advanced after a surprise win over Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in their last group game, making it to the last 16 for the first time in 12 years.
Tests after the Serbia match showed ligament damage in Neymar’s ankle and it wasn’t clear if he would be able to play again in Qatar. His ankle looked bad, with a lot of swelling, and doctors wouldn’t say if he would recover during the tournament.
But after undergoing intensive physiotherapy treatment, Neymar improved and was back training on Saturday. In footage released by the Brazilian soccer federation, he appeared to be in good condition, doing drills with the ball and taking shots on goal without signs of his injury.
Midfielder Fred replaced Neymar against Switzerland. With Brazil already through to the knockout phase, Tite rotated the entire squad against Cameroon.
This will be the first time Brazil and South Korea meet in an official match, with the Brazilians winning six of their seven friendlies. South Korea’s only win came in 1999.
South Korea advanced in Qatar thanks to a dramatic stoppage-time goal by Hwang Hee-chan in a 2-1 victory over Portugal. It had drawn with Uruguay in its opener and then lost to Ghana.
Hwang was expected to be in the starting lineup again against Brazil after missing the team’s first two games because of a hamstring injury.
South Korea is trying to advance past the round of 16 for the first time since its historic run as a co-host in 2002, when it made it to the semifinals and ended fourth. It was eliminated in the group stage both in 2014 and 2018.
Brazil is trying to win its first World Cup title since the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea. The Selecao has made it to the last eight in every tournament since then, with its best run being the semifinal appearance at the home tournament in 2014.
The winner of the match will face either Japan or 2018 runner-up Croatia in the quarterfinals.
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