Lille (France) (AFP) – Paris Saint-Germain’s Brazilian stars, including the world’s most expensive player, Neymar, face Japan in Lille on Friday 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 on Thursday.
“It’s important the players understand from this point onwards that every match counts in preparation for the World Cup. It’s as if it was the tournament already.”
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, Friday’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.
“I told my players, ‘We’re playing at mine, we have to win or it will be impossible for me to keep living here,'” he joked.
– Capable of an upset? –
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.
“We’re getting ready for an important test against one of the best teams in the world,” said Halilhodzic.
“We’re going to try and play with lots of courage and determination and we hope to pose them problems. It’s a good test to see what level Japan are currently at.
“We haven’t come just to defend, that would be a big mistake. Every time we have the ball we have to play and try to push them about. I’d love to pull off a surprise, but are we capable? We’ll see.”
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.
“Brazil are the big favourites here,” Halilhodzic said on Friday’s encounter. “Right now they’re the best team in the world but we’ll try.
“We’ll be able to glean information from this match and the one against Belgium (on Tuesday), two of the best sides in the world.”
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