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Brazil looks to book place in knockout stage without injured star man Neymar

<i>Lars Baron/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images</i><br/>Brazil looks to book a place in the knockout stage without injured star man Neymar.
Getty Images
Lars Baron/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
Brazil looks to book a place in the knockout stage without injured star man Neymar.

By Matias Grez, CNN

The image of Neymar limping off the pitch, his right ankle visibly swollen, would have left millions of Brazil fans fearing the worst.

Fortunately for them, the player who has become this generation’s talisman will be fit in time to play in the 2022 World Cup knockout stage, should Brazil qualify, after being diagnosed with an ankle sprain.

Brazil’s opening round 2-0 win over Serbia was far from pretty at times, though Tite’s iteration of the Seleção is known more for its pragmatism and efficiency than its aesthetics.

As the second half wore on and Richarlison scored his and Brazil’s second to seal the victory, the players in those famous canary yellow shirts began to show flashes of the flair that World Cup fans have become used to seeing over the years.

But Neymar’s absence for Brazil’s two remaining Group G matches will be a huge blow, with the Paris Saint-Germain forward’s creativity so crucial to this team breaking defenses down.

However, it is also a considerable personal blow to Neymar, whose legacy with the national team will be largely defined by how he and Brazil perform in Qatar. Now 30, this World Cup will likely be his best chance at lifting the trophy.

Despite being just two goals away from equaling Pele’s all-time Brazil record of 77 goals, Neymar has never quite received the same adoration as the Brazilian greats of old, but victory in Qatar would go a long way toward changing that.

Switzerland goes into the game off the back of a hard-fought win over Cameroon, with Cameroon-born Breel Embolo scoring the second-half winner.

The match was certainly a slog at times and Switzerland was fortunate that Cameroon was unable to convert a number of golden chances to open the scoring in the first half.

Embolo’s pace, movement and finishing will certainly be enough to give Brazil’s defense trouble, in particular in the absence of the injured Danilo, while Xherdan Shaqiri is still capable of producing an individual moment of brilliance.

New Manchester City signing Manuel Akanji has proven himself to be one of the world’s best defenders, with left-back Ricardo Rodriguez always a threat with his deliveries from crosses and set pieces.

The opening win over Cameroon will have given this Switzerland team a huge boost of confidence as it looks to qualify from one of the tournament’s most competitive groups, with the aim of reaching a first World Cup quarterfinal since 1954.

Group H

Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal sit pretty atop Group H after the opening round of fixtures, but their place at the summit doesn’t tell the whole story.

Portugal squeezed past Ghana 3-2 in perhaps the most entertaining match of the World Cup so far and could quite easily have thrown it away at the death, as Iñaki Williams slipped at the crucial moment after sneaking up behind goalkeeper Diogo Costa to steal the ball.

Ronaldo’s penalty to break the deadlock meant the 37-year-old became the first men’s player in history to score at five World Cups, but he admitted post-match that he was far from his best.

Ronaldo, likely playing in his last World Cup, remains Portugal’s greatest goal threat and he will be coming up against familiar foes Diego Godín and José María Giménez in the Uruguayan back line.

The former Real Madrid forward spent many years in La Liga coming up against the Uruguayan center-back pairing when they played together for Atlético Madrid and Ronaldo will know he faces a physical battle on Monday.

Uruguay put in a disappointing performance against South Korea in its opener and stars such as Godín, Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani are really showing their age.

However, in Federico Valverde, Uruguay boasts one of Europe’s best midfielders and his energy will be crucial to guiding La Celeste through the group stage.

Group H’s other match pits Ghana against South Korea, with both teams desperate for a win to kickstart their World Cup campaigns. In hindsight, the Koreans will perhaps be regretting showing Uruguay too much respect in their opening game, sitting back for too long in a game that was there to be won.

Star man Son Heung-min showed glimpses of his quality, but looked slightly off the pace on his return from injury, donning a protective mask to protect his fractured eye socket.

In Ghana, Korea knows it faces a team with an abundance of quality in the final third, as the match against Portugal proved. Williams and Mohammed Kudus have the individual ability to trouble any defense, while Premier League pair Mohammed Salisu and Daniel Amartey form a solid defensive base.

Both teams will feel as though the three points are there for the taking, with a draw not a particularly favorable result for either side.

Day nine fixtures

Cameroon vs. Serbia: 5 a.m. ET

South Korea vs. Ghana: 8 a.m. ET

Brazil vs Switzerland 11 a.m. ET

Portugal vs. Uruguay 2 p.m. ET

How to watch

US: Fox Sports

UK: BBC or ITV

Australia: SBS

Brazil: SportTV

Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom

Canada: Bell Media

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