Neymar urges teammates to go out fighting
BRASILIA, Brazil (AFP) — Neymar has urged his Brazil teammates to rescue some of their battered pride after their humiliating World Cup semi-final defeat to Germany by beating the Netherlands in today's third-place play-off in Brasilia.
It is the one game that no team ever wants to take part in, but the encounter at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium took on extra significance after the hosts' dream of lifting the trophy at the Maracana 24 hours later was ended by their record 1-7 loss against the Germans.
Neymar missed that match after fracturing a bone in his back in the quarter-final win against Colombia, but the 22-year-old superstar faced the media on Thursday as he called for Brazil to bow out on a high.
"It was unbelievable, inexplicable. We had the opportunity to write our names into history in a positive manner, and we failed," he said of the Selecao's embarrassing semi-final loss, their heaviest-ever defeat.
"We haven't had a good campaign. We were consistent, which is why we reached the semi-finals, but we didn't play the kind of enchanting football associated with Brazil.
"Now we need to approach Saturday's (today's) game as if it were the final and finish the World Cup smiling, with a victory. It is not going to lessen the pain, but it is important."
The match could prove to be Luiz Felipe Scolari's last in charge, and the coach is likely to make changes to a team whose confidence has been so badly damaged.
Captain Thiago Silva will return after suspension, while his Paris Saint-Germain colleague Maxwell, the only outfield player yet to feature, may play a part.
Despite Neymar's rallying cry, almost all of those involved in Brasilia would rather be elsewhere, with Daniel Alves having made clear his lack of appetite for the bronze-medal clash.
"The important thing is first place. Nothing else matters," said the right-back. "We represent millions of people, so we have to digest this defeat and go out onto the field on Saturday. But, for me, every game is about being first."
The mood in the Dutch camp is the same. The Oranje have a day less to prepare for the match after their agonising defeat on penalties to Argentina in Wednesday's second semi-final in Sao Paulo.
With the sole exception of third-choice goalkeeper Michel Vorm, every member of the Dutch squad has played some part at the tournament, but Van Gaal may choose to give younger players such as Jordy Clasie and Memphis Depay a run-out from the start here.
Meanwhile, Nigel de Jong could miss out after surprisingly featuring for an hour against Argentina, just 10 days after tearing a groin muscle in the last-16 win over Mexico.
The match will be the fifth meeting of the countries at the World Cup, with both sides having recorded two victories so far. The Netherlands emerged 2-1 winners in the last eight in South Africa four years ago.