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Face Serbia in group opener today

Brazil's fate depends on Neymar

First win key in tough group for Swiss, Cameroon

November 24, 2022 00:00:00

Brazil's Neymar during a training session at the Grand Hamad stadium in Doha, Qatar on Sunday — AP

DOHA, Qatar, Nov 23 (AP): Neymar hasn't spoken a word publicly since arriving at the World Cup. And he hasn't had to.

That's because his intentions are clear.

The Paris Saint-Germain star made sure of that when he posted a photo on social media with a sixth star photoshopped onto his shorts around Brazil's logo during the flight to Qatar - referring to a hoped-for, record-extending sixth World Cup title for the South American team.

"This is our dream," Brazil forward Richarlison said. "Neymar posted that photo because it's his dream, too. He wants to win that and we know how willing he is to win that. He can do whatever he wants. It's his dream. If Neymar is happy here, we will be happy. That's the most important thing."

That's the general feeling: Brazil 's fate depends on Neymar's form and mental state.

The Seleção open on Thursday against a Serbia side that has not met high expectations at soccer's biggest stages.

Neymar enters in good form after a series of injuries since the 2018 World Cup - when Brazil was beaten by Belgium in the quarterfinals. His only issue so far was showing up a day late to Brazil's pre-tournament training camp in Turin, Italy, because of a problem with his flight. Brazil coach Tite should have all of his players available for the opener. The only doubt is whether he will play with midfielder Lucas Paquetá or a more attack-minded team with Vinícius Júnior up front alongside Neymar.

Neymar has 75 career goals for Brazil and needs just two more to match Pelé's record. And what better place to accomplish that feat than before a global audience at soccer's biggest event.

Serbia, meanwhile, is aiming to advance from the group stage for the first time in its fourth World Cup appearance as an independent nation. It has also failed to qualify for the European Championship in five tries.

Switzerland and Cameroon are also in Group G.

Meanwhile, even for their opening game at the World Cup, Switzerland against Cameroon has the look of a must-win opportunity in a tough group.

With talent-packed Brazil and robust Serbia also in Group G, taking three points in the early afternoon heat on Thursday shapes as a key step for each team to advance.

The task is harder for Cameroon based on recent World Cup form after being swept aside in three straight losses at each of its past two appearances, in 2014 and 2010.

In that period the Indomitable Lions have scored fewer goals collectively as a team on soccer's biggest stage than a single Swiss player, Xherdan Shaqiri.

The score is 4-3 in Shaqiri's favor since 2010 when he made his World Cup debut as a teenager. Now 31 and playing in MLS with Chicago Fire, Shaqiri returns again as playmaker equalling a Swiss record at his fourth edition of the tournament. Goals will more likely come from in-form Monaco forward Breel Embolo.

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