Neymar and Brazil arrive in Russia with World Cup clock ticking down

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Brazil’s squad arrived in Russia on Monday with their star Neymar seemingly recovered from a broken foot bone as they begin their quest to win a sixth World Cup.

The Brazilians landed in the early hours in Sochi, the Black Sea resort where they will be based, fresh from beating Austria 3-0 in their final warm-up match.

Neymar marked his first start in more than three months by scoring in the easy victory in Vienna while Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho also netted.

It was Neymar’s 55th goal in a Brazil shirt, allowing him to draw level with Romario on his country’s list of all-time leading scorers — only Pele and Ronaldo have more goals for their country.

“I don’t know Neymar’s limits,” Brazil coach Tite said. “His technical and creative capacity is impressive. When we get him in the last third of the field he is lethal.”

Brazil, who crashed out of the last World Cup on home soil in a humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany, start their campaign against Switzerland in Rostov-on-Don on Sunday.

Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, joined fellow stars Lionel Messi of Argentina and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo on Russian soil as the clock ticks down to Thursday’s curtainraiser between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.

A big question mark hangs over the participation of Egypt and Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah, who is still receiving treatment for the shoulder injury he suffered in the Champions League final.

Egypt are banking on the availability of Salah as they try to get past the first stage of a World Cup for the first time.

The Egyptians arrived at their base in the Chechen capital Grozny on Sunday, after Salah sat out their final training session in Cairo.

Once they touched down, a tracksuited Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov was among the first to greet Salah.

– Salah fitness race –

Team doctor Mohamed Abou al-Ela admitted the striker, who scored 44 goals for Liverpool this season, was unlikely to play in Egypt’s opening Group A match against Uruguay on Friday.

“He still feels pain… this type of injury needs a recovery period of three weeks before going back to the field,” he said.

Cristiano Ronaldo trained with Portugal on Sunday, as the European champions held their first World Cup training session at the team’s base in Kratovo, southeast of Moscow, five days ahead of their heavyweight opening clash against Spain in Sochi on Friday.

Santos’s side will want to start strongly after a 4-0 defeat by Germany in Brazil four years ago set the tone for a dismal group-stage exit.

France, boasting a lethal attack featuring Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe in an attack-minded squad, also arrived in Russia, seeking to win their second World Cup 20 years after their 1998 triumph.

Despite their impressive resources, France looked flat in a 1-1 draw against the United States in Lyon on Saturday.

While the favourites limber up, host nation Russia are under high pressure as they prepare to open the tournament at the impressive 80,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Ranked a lowly 70 in the world, Russia have not won for seven consecutive games.

President Vladimir Putin, who has spent billions to put on the biggest sports event in Russia since the 1980 Moscow Olympics, has exhorted the team to raise their level.

“I must acknowledge the fact that, unfortunately, our team have not achieved big results in recent times,” Putin said last week.

Before Thursday’s kickoff, the football world will focus on choosing the host of the 2026 World Cup between a joint bid featuring the United States, Canada and Mexico and underdogs Morocco.

FIFA member states will vote on the issue at their congress on Wednesday.

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© Agence France-Presse

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