Neymar Scores in Return from Injury, Brazil Beat Croatia 2-0 in Friendly

Gianni Verschueren@ReverschPassFeatured ColumnistJune 3, 2018

Brazil's Neymar during the friendly soccer match between Brazil and Croatia at Anfield Stadium in Liverpool, England, Sunday, June 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
Dave Thompson/Associated Press

Neymar made his first appearance since February and scored on his return to action, as Brazil beat Croatia 2-0 at Anfield in an international friendly.

Sunday's friendly was hardly a spectacle, as neither side appeared interested in putting on a show. Chances were few, but Neymar scored a great goal in the second half. Roberto Firmino added to the lead late.

Here are some key takeaways from Sunday.


Surprise, Surprise: Brazil Need Neymar

Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar finally made his return to the pitch in the second half on Sunday, playing his first minutes since February. The 26-year-old provided a spark off the bench and scored a lovely goal, a thumping strike that hit the crossbar on the way in.

It's no big secret he's been Brazil's most pivotal player for years, and the first 45 minutes of Sunday's friendly once again underlined this. Not because the Selecao couldn't score in the first half―rather, their tactical setup suffered because manager Tite had to shift. Brazilian Football made this simple but pivotal observation:

Brazil Football 🇧🇷 @BrazilEdition

Neymar for Fernandinho in the 2nd half please, drop Coutinho to the middle. We need more creativity centrally.

Against Croatia's solid midfield, Fernandinho and his team-mates couldn't move the ball quickly enough or find the openings to put their forwards in position. Granted, it was only a friendly, and the bulk of the players played at half-speed, but the issue was still plain to see.

Moving Philippe Coutinho further back gives the team an extra creative force that can push the pace if needed. It's a small tweak but one that could have a major impact against the top teams at the World Cup.


Save It for the World Cup, Guys

The final weeks before a major tournament are always a little scary, as teams try to schedule several friendlies to prepare but run the risk of injury. Just ask the Belgians, who played their first friendly against Portugal on Saturday and watched Vincent Kompany, Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard all pick up knocks before the final whistle.

With that in mind, you would expect players to hold back just a little bit. There was none of that at Anfield, however, as Ivan Perisic went in hard on Gabriel Jesus, risking an injury. Minutes later, Fernandinho did this to Sime Vrsaljko:

Hablemos de Fútbol @HDF_ESPN

#Video ¿Amistoso? Fernandinho saltó con la pierna bien arriba y casi le arranca la cabeza a Vrsaljko, que terminó cortado en el piso. https://t.co/Leqetiinpc

Fans would call that a horrendous challenge in a high-stakes match, but remember: This was a friendly. There's no need for this at this time of year.


Croatia Will Be Trouble in Russia

The Croats lack the defensive depth and top-end talent along the back line to be considered candidates to win the World Cup, but don't be surprised if they end up knocking out one of the favourites at some point in the tournament.

A midfield setup of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic could rival any in the tournament, and there's enough attacking depth and versatility to make changes when needed. Between the pace of Perisic, the power of Mario Mandzukic and the trickery of Marko Pjaca, defenders will hate facing Croatia.

Argentina may be the favourites in Group D, but their defence is their weak point. Don't be shocked if Croatia make that clear on June 21.


Coutinho's Return

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise Anfield didn't give Coutinho a welcome reception on his return:

Joe D @JoeDowthy

Coutinho mixed reception 🔴👀 #LFC https://t.co/mNNMevfG8b

The Barcelona man left Liverpool for the Catalans in the middle of the season, a decision the fans were anything but happy with.


What's Next?

Brazil will play Austria in Vienna next Sunday, while Croatia host Senegal on Friday.