Neymar silent before Brazil open vs Serbia at World Cup Loop Jamaica

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Neymar hasn’t spoken a word publicly since arriving at the World Cup. And he hasn’t had to.

That’s because his intentions are clear.

The Paris Saint-Germain star made sure of that when he posted a photo on social media with a sixth star photoshopped onto his shorts around Brazil’s logo during the flight to Qatar — referring to a hoped-for, record-extending sixth World Cup title for the South American team.

“This is our dream,” Brazil forward Richarlison said. “Neymar posted that photo because it’s his dream, too. He wants to win that and we know how willing he is to win that. He can do whatever he wants. It’s his dream. If Neymar is happy here, we will be happy. That’s the most important thing.”

That’s the general feeling: Brazil ‘s fate depends on Neymar’s form and mental state.

The Sele??o open on Thursday against a Serbia side that has not met high expectations on soccer’s biggest stages.

Neymar enters in good form after a series of injuries since the 2018 World Cup — when Brazil were beaten by Belgium in the quarterfinals. His only issue so far was showing up a day late to Brazil’s pre-tournament training camp in Turin, Italy, because of a problem with his flight.

“We need to take advantage of this best Neymar mode,” Brazil captain Thiago Silva said.

Brazil coach Tite should have all of his players available for the opener. The only doubt is whether he will use midfielder Lucas Paquet? or a more attack-minded team with Vin?cius J?nior up front alongside Neymar.

Neymar has 75 career goals for Brazil and needs just two more to match Pel?’s record. And what better place to accomplish that feat than before a global audience at soccer’s biggest event — especially for the player who Qatari-owned PSG bought for a world-record transfer fee of 222 million euros ($230 million) in 2017.

Serbia, meanwhile, are aiming to advance from the group stage for the first time in their fourth World Cup appearance as an independent nation. They have also failed to qualify for the European Championship in five tries.

Many of Serbia’s players were on the team that beat Brazil to lift the under-20 World Cup trophy in 2015; as well as a win over France in the final of the under-19 European Championship final two years earlier.

But Aleksandar Mitrovi?, Sergej Milinkovi?-Savi?, Nemanja Maksimovi? and Andrija ?ivkovi?, who were on those youth teams, have failed to reproduce the same success at the senior level for Serbia.

Add in 22-year-old center forward Du?an Vlahovi?, who scored 50 goals in all competitions with Fiorentina and Juventus over the past two seasons, though, and Serbia might finally have the firepower to fulfil their potential.

Whether Serbia have the defensive pedigree to contain Brazil’s vast array of forwards is a different matter.

Brazil beat Serbia 2-0 in the final group match at the 2018 World Cup.

“The players are more mature now,” Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovi? said. “They’ve played the World Cup before.”

Serbia captain Du?an Tadi? suggested that Stojkovi?’s hiring last year after another failed European Championship qualifying campaign has also boosted morale.

Serbia went unbeaten in qualifying for this tournament and also recently won promotion from the second tier of the Nations League.

“Ever since Stojkovi? arrived, we’re all happy and the atmosphere is perfect,” Tadi? said. “We never had that.”

Switzerland and Cameroon are also in Group G.

“We have a difficult group — one of the most difficult ones — but at the end of the day this is a challenge for all of us to show that we can (play),” Stojkovi? said. “The expectations are high.”

Not as high, though, as they are for Neymar.