Brazil will face Switzerland in the World Cup on Monday without their talisman Neymar, ruled out by an ankle injury suffered in their opening 2-0 win against Serbia on Thursday, but midfielder Casemiro thinks they have a host of young talent to step in for him .
“We could spend several days talking about Neymar, the player he is, his qualities and how important he is for our team. It’s unavoidable, he is our biggest player, the difference maker in our team,” Casemiro told a news conference on Saturday .
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“However, we have other players that have been performing at the same level like Vinicius Junior, Raphinha, Richarlison, Gabriel Jesus…
“We, those who play in the back end, often joke that we feel sorry for our rivals because we can replace Raphinha for Antony, Richarlison for Gabriel Jesus. We have Rodrygo, Gabriel Martinelli…
“We have a wide array of options [on the bench]. It’s great for us. But it does not change the fact that Neymar is our best player.”
The World Cup favorites trained behind closed doors at the Al Arabi Stadium ahead of their Group G second game against Switzerland.
Real Madrid prodigy Rodrygo would be the first option if coach Tite decides to use the same system with four men up-front alongside Vinicius, Richarlison and Raphinha.
The versatile 21-year-old forward played in Neymar’s position in three Brazil practice games in Turin in the week prior to the World Cup.
Casemiro gave no clue on team selection but talked about his former Real Madrid teammate.
“Rodrygo lights up the eyes and delights everyone with his play,” Casemiro said.
“He is a star player, he has the natural gift of playing football. It’s nice to see him play. Those who like football, will always enjoy watching him play.”
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Casemiro defended Neymar from the attacks he received on social media from some Brazilian fans who celebrated his injury. Raphinha had already done the same with a controversial repost of text that said Neymar’s biggest mistake was to be born Brazilian, and that the country didn’t deserve his talent.
“It’s a pity, but there are bad people who wish the worst for others,” Casemiro said. “Neymar has a great heart. He doesn’t deserve this.”
Brazil will also be without ever-reliable full back Danilo, who also sustained an ankle injury against the Serbians.
His replacement is the biggest question mark for Monday’s match as 39-year-old veteran Dani Alves is the only right back available.
The former Barcelona man played his last game for Mexican side UNAM Pumas in September and sustained a knee injury that has been troubling him since.
Tite tested out Real Madrid center back Eder Militao as a full back in their friendly match against Ghana, which could be another option.
“If Alves is here it is because he is capable and ready to play. But if he does not play it would not be a surprise because Militao has shown that he can deliver playing as a full back,” Casemiro said.
Casemiro was also asked about his Manchester United teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, whose contract was mutually terminated earlier this week following an explosive interview in which he criticized United and manager Erik ten Hag.
“I didn’t text him after that. Cristiano is a very experienced guy, he knows what is good for his career,” he said. “Of course we are sad there at Manchester for a player leaving, even more one of the best in the world.
“He is already very experienced, right? He knows what is good for him. We, as friends, wish him all the luck. Everything good in his life, except against me.”
Information from Reuters and the Associated Press was used in this report.