The referee did not even consider it a foul. Neymar was out of a World Cup in his own country, and Brazil were shockingly outplayed in Belo Horizonte. Four years on, old wounds forgotten, Brazil are once again one of the favoured nations to lift the Cup. Once again, Neymar’s form is a concern, since he is just coming back from another injury.
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Another World Cup for you. Can Brazil do it this time?
I always believe that we can do it. We have a very good side and we have worked quite well. The most important thing is, we have the quality to do it.
Can you elaborate?
See, we were the first team to qualify from South America. Teams have to play no fewer than 18 matches in the qualifier and those matches take place in various countries in different climatic conditions. It’s a huge test for the footballers. We did it in style, qualified with matches in hand. That was special for everyone. We want to continue doing the same in Russia.
You were an integral part of those World Cup qualifiers. But you were injured playing for Paris St Germain and had to undergo surgery for your broken metatarsal. This seems to be a major concern…
I am all right now. Yes, it was a concern for me. Immediately we decided to go for surgery since we had the World Cup in mind. I think everything will be perfect for all of us.
You were injured in 2014 and could not play the semifinalin which Brazil experienced their heaviest ever Cup defeat…
Well, we have come a long way since then. It was difficult to digest, especially for me since I could not play the match due to an injury which could have ended my playing career. It was a career-threatening injury. Two centimetres to the right and I could have ended in a wheelchair. Thank God I was back soon and could continue doing what I love most. This time, are ready for the challenge.
Brazil are placed in Group E with Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia. Your thoughts on the opponents…
It is the World Cup and you are there because you are among the best 32 nations to play football at this moment. There are no easy games in a World Cup. Switzerland have a great football history while Serbia have made a mark since their birth as a new nation. One should get an idea of how strong Costa Rica are from the fact that the USA are not in Russia, but the Costa Ricans are. It is a difficult group, one of the most difficult groups. We shall have to be at our best to qualify for the knockout rounds.
You played with Lionel Messi and against Cristiano Ronaldo in Spain. What are their chances of winning the World Cup?
Both are great footballers, the best of their generation. I had played with Messi and that’s a huge honour for me. I really like him, both as a footballer and as a man. It was a dream to play for the same club with Messi. For me, he was definitely the best. But you can never rule out Cristiano. His numbers are equally amazing. However, for both Argentina and Portugal it will be a tough test in the World Cup. But these two magicians will be giving their best to earn the best result for their countries.
Your favourite to win the Cup?
Brazil, obviously! On a serious note, there are quite a few along with us. The Argentines, the Uruguayans from our continent. Since the World Cup is in Europe, there will be more European teams in the list of favourites. Germany, the defending champions, Spain, France, Belgium and Portugal…it’s difficult to pick a single nation as favourite.