It was celebration time for Brazil as superstar Neymar returned from injury with a goal against Croatia at Anfield. (Reuters: Andrew Yates)
Only three months ago, Brazil striker Neymar was on an operating table and in danger of missing the World Cup in Russia.
Those fears largely disappeared on Monday (AEST) when Neymar returned to action with smart dribbling, fluent passing and an impressive individual goal, which he celebrated with his surgeon.
Playing for the first time since February, Neymar scored the opener in Brazil’s 2-0 friendly win against Croatia in Liverpool after coming on for the second half.
He then ran to hug Brazilian football confederation doctor Rodrigo Lasmar on the sidelines at Anfield.
“I am so happy to play football again. I have waited and worked a lot for this. I suffered, these were very tough three months,” Neymar said.
“When I saw the ball hit the net I only thought of those that helped me, Dr Lasmar, my family, friends.”
Neymar, who also withstood a few challenges in the game, received the ball from midfielder Philippe Coutinho in the 68th minute and dribbled past Croatia defenders Sime Vrsaljko and Duje Caleta-Car.
He smashed the ball into the net from around five metres out with his right foot.
He did not warm up with the Brazilian team on Sunday, which had again raised concerns among supporters.
Neymar said he was at 80 per cent for the Croatia game.
Brazil coach Tite said Neymar’s return was “above the expected standard”.
“Neymar is only human, but he came back above my expectations too,” Tite said.
“I was expecting much less.”
Neymar had replaced midfielder Fernandinho at half-time with the score at 0-0.
He quickly made his mark and raised the hopes of Brazilian fans for the World Cup, which starts on June 14.
Tite was not getting carried away, though.
“Neymar is going to have ups and downs like he had in training until the third, fourth game (on his return). Then he will have his normal standard,” Tite said.
Australia’s rivals Peru boosted by Guerrero’s goals
Paolo Guerrero made an impact on his return from a doping ban, scoring twice in Peru’s win over Saudi Arabia. (AP / Keystone: Gian Ehrenzeller)
In Switzerland, Peru welcomed back striker Paolo Guerrero, who scored twice in his team’s 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia.
Three days after getting a reprieve from a 14-month doping ban, the Peruvian skipper showed World Cup Group C rivals Australia exactly how important he will be for La Blanquirroja when the two teams meet on June 27 (AEST).
Guerrero looked every bit the inspirational leader Peru campaigned to clear for action at its first World Cup appearance in 36 years.
Peru already led 1-0 when Guerrero followed up to score from close range in the 41st minute after an initial shot was saved.
Guerrero’s header from Andre Carrillo’s cross in the 64th minute brought more adulation from a partisan Peruvian crowd in neutral St Gallen, Switzerland, near both teams’ training camps.
Carrillo opened the scoring with a stunning left-foot volley in the 20th.
Guerrero could yet have to complete the ban imposed by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport for his positive test for metabolites of cocaine at a World Cup qualifying game last October.
However, a Switzerland Federal Tribunal judge said last Thursday that the ban should not apply until Guerrero’s appeal is heard in full after the World Cup.
Peru is in Group C with France, Denmark and Australia.
It plays its first game against Denmark on June 16.