Sports

Neymar leads Brazilian all-star cast for Japan test

Friday, November 10, 2017

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LILLE, France (AFP) – Paris Saint-Germain's Brazilian stars, including the world's most expensive player, Neymar, face Japan in Lille today as both nations ramp up their preparations for the 2018 World Cup.

Brazil were the first team – aside from hosts Russia – to clinch their place at next year's finals after romping through South American qualifying, while Japan will make a sixth-straight appearance at the global showpiece.

“It's an important preparation match for the World Cup, even if it is just a friendly,” Brazil coach Tite told a press conference yesterday.

With the exception of Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho, who is doubtful with an adductor problem, Brazil will field the majority of their first-choice side at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

Neymar sat out PSG's 5-0 rout of Angers last weekend with a minor thigh problem, but the 25-year-old took full part in Brazil's three training sessions in Paris this week and will start against Japan, Tite confirmed.

He will be joined in the line-up by club team-mate Thiago Silva, although Marquinhos and Dani Alves must both settle for a place on the bench with Monaco's Jemerson and Danilo of Manchester City both handed a chance to stake their claims for a World Cup place.

For Japan boss Vahid Halilhodzic, today's fixture is of particular significance for the 65-year-old who starred in France during his playing days with Nantes in the 1980s.

“It's a great pleasure. I don't live very far from here,” said Halilhodzic, who oversaw Lille's return to the top flight in 2000 during a four-year spell in charge.

But the firebrand Franco-Bosnian, who in August revealed he had considered stepping down for “personal reasons” before Japanese officials insisted that he continue, vowed his side wouldn't be cowed by the challenge of playing the five-time world champions.

Halilhodzic steered Ivory Coast to the 2010 World Cup but was sacked three months before the tournament started.

He then guided an impressive Algeria team to the 2014 finals in Brazil where they reached the last 16 only to lose to eventual champions Germany, 2-1, after extra time.

His two-and-a-half years in charge of Japan have often been turbulent, marked by run-ins with players and Japanese FA officials that have polarised opinion about his suitability for the job.

But Halilhodzic has insisted he is going nowhere as Japan look to turn the page on a disappointing showing at the last World Cup when they crashed out at the group stage.

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