Brazil coach Tite believes Neymar is irreplaceable because his technical abilities are what empower the rest of the team.
Neymar was back in the starting XI for Monday’s World Cup last-16 win over South Korea at Stadium 974 after injuring ankle ligaments on matchday one.
His participation for the rest of the tournament had been in doubt, but he returned and played a key role in the comfortable 4-1 victory, scoring a penalty that took him to within one goal of Pele’s all-time record of 77.
Brazil were irresistible at times in the first half and Neymar was generally at the centre of their most promising attacks, even if he did not necessarily record an assist.
Before Monday, Brazil’s performances had been functional if not spectacular, but Neymar’s return was important for the fluidity of the rest of the team.
“He’s a technical reference. This is technical leadership. When a team looks for the player, they know that they have a weapon there, [someone who can make] the difference,” Tite said of the Paris Saint-Germain forward.
“Everyone has their own striking characteristics, but Neymar is the centre, the one who empowers the others.”
With his early spot-kick, Neymar became the third Brazil player to score at three editions of the World Cup (2014, 2018 and 2022) after Pele and Ronaldo.
He also created two chances and stepped over the ball before Vinicius Junior coolly opened the scoring in the seventh minute, while only Casemiro and Raphinha – two players who finished the game – managed more than Neymar’s 17 passes in the final third, highlighting his involvement in the Selecao’s attacks.
Tite’s assistant, Cesar Sampaio, believes having Neymar back also provides a mental boost to his team-mates on top of his technical excellence.
“Neymar for sure provides a competitive advantage, he makes a difference on pitch,” he said.
“He’s a driving force. I’m going round and round, beating around the bush to talk about him, but in a nutshell I’d like to congratulate our physios for their work.
“Neymar, besides his technical skills, he motivates the others and we are very happy to have him back. He had a great performance, he’s recovered and ready for new challenges.
“He made important steps, and with him we can reach our full potential.”
Brazil’s victory set up a quarter-final clash with Croatia on Friday after Zlatko Dalic’s men defeated Japan 3-1 on penalties following a 1-1 draw earlier in the day.