LIVERPOOL, England — Exceeding all expectations ahead of the World Cup, Brazil striker Neymar made a spectacular return on Sunday after a three-month absence with a foot injury and celebrated an impressive individual goal with his surgeon.
Playing for the first time since February, Neymar scored the opener in Brazil’s 2-0 friendly win against Croatia in Liverpool. The striker then ran to hug Brazilian soccer confederation doctor Rodrigo Lasmar on the sidelines at Anfield.
“He came back above the expected standard,” Brazil coach Tite said. “Neymar is only human, but he came back above my expectations too.”
Neymar had replaced midfielder Fernandinho at halftime with the score at 0-0 and needed less than 25 minutes to make his mark and raise the hopes of Brazilian fans for the World Cup in Russia, which starts June 14.
Neymar, who withstood a few challenges in the game, received the ball from midfielder Philippe Coutinho in the 68th and dribbled past Croatia defenders Sime Vrsaljko and Duje Caleta-Car. He smashed the ball into the net from around five meters (yards) with his right foot.
The Brazilian injured the same foot playing for Paris Saint-Germain and underwent surgery in Brazil in early March. He did not warm up with the Brazilian team on Sunday, which once more raised concerns among supporters.
“Neymar is going to have ups and downs like he had in training until the third, fourth game (on his return). Then he will have his normal standard,” Tite said.
Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino scored Brazil’s second goal in the 90th. After Casemiro put the ball in the penalty box, Firmino controlled with his chest and sent the ball over Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic to step up his challenge for a starting position in the team.
Brazil captain and No. 9 Gabriel Jesus was not as impressive in the first half of the match, and was replaced by Firmino after an hour.
“I am here to help Brazil. I respect Tite’s opinion (in starting with Jesus) 100 percent,” Firmino said.
The striker also thanked local fans for their support, saying “it is good to play at home.”
The same Liverpool supporters who cheered Firmino went out of their way to jeer Coutinho, who left the Reds for Barcelona earlier this year.
Until Neymar stepped onto the pitch it was Croatia who had the best opportunities in a match that seemed headed for a dull draw.