Neymar’s ‘extraordinary’ return as Utd star costs Spain
NEYMAR has returned from injury with a bang, scoring in Brazil's 2-0 friendly win over Croatia, while Spain were held by Switzerland.
The Brazilian played his first game in three months and was joined by Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino on the scoresheet in the Selecao's penultimate match before the World Cup.
Elsewhere in friendly action, Spain were held to a 1-1 draw against Switzerland owing to an uncharactistic error from Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea, while Peru skipper Paolo Guerrero also enjoyed a succesful return - netting a brace in a 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia.
Earlier, Mexico registered a 1-0 win over Scotland, while Costa Rica romped to a 3-0 win over Northern Ireland.
HERE'S A WRAP OF THE OVERNIGHT FRIENDLY ACTION INVOLVING WORLD CUP SIDES...
BRAZIL 2-0 CROATIA
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. Defender Dejan Lovren had the best chance to open in a header that grazed Brazil goalkeeper Alisson's right post after a corner.
When Fernandinho went off, Coutinho played a greater role and Brazil's game improved.
The five-time World Cup champions play their last pre-World Cup friendly against Austria on June 10.
Monday will be a rest day for the team and Brazilian media claimed midfielder Fred will be traveling to Manchester for medical tests before signing a deal with Manchester United.
Tite did not confirm the move but said: "Our orientation is for them (players) to solve (transfers) as quickly as possible so they keep their head and effort focused on Brazil. If I were the manager there, I would try to sign him too." Brazil's World Cup opener is on June 17 against Switzerland.
SPAIN 1-1 SWITZERLAND
Spain and Switzerland played to a 1-1 draw in a warmup match for the World Cup on Sunday.
Spain was in control from the start but couldn't capitalize on its chances and paid the prize after a second-half blunder by goalkeeper David de Gea.
Alvaro Odriozola opened the scoring for the hosts with a neat volley from just outside the area in the 29th minute. Ricardo Rodriguez equalised for the Swiss in the 62nd after De Gea dropped the ball in front of goal while trying to hold on to a weak shot from inside the area.
The result kept Spain unbeaten in 19 matches since coach Julen Lopetegui took over after the 2016 European Championship.
Spain still wasn't at full strength as defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets was dropped from the starting lineup after falling ill with gastroenteritis.
Real Madrid players also weren't fully available after reporting late to the squad because of the Champions League final.
Sergio Ramos, Francisco "Isco" Alarcon and Dani Carvajal didn't even travel for the match in Villarreal, although Nacho Fernandez, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez were second-half substitutes.
Fernandez nearly scored Spain's winner with a shot that hit the post in second- half injury time.
Lopetegui played with Diego Costa and Iago Aspas up front, while Jorge "Koke" Resurreccion, Thiago Alcantara, Andres Iniesta and David Silva were in midfield.
Spain will head to Russia looking to rebound from early eliminations at the 2016 European Championship and the 2014 World Cup. La Roja won Euro 2012, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2008.
Spain's final warm-up match will be against Tunisia on Saturday in Krasnodar, the team's base in Russia.
Its first game at the World Cup is against European champion Portugal on June 15.
Spain's next Group B matches will be against Iran on June 20 and Morocco on June 25.
Spain will travel to Russia on Thursday.
Switzerland will host Japan on Friday in its final warmup match before its World Cup opener against Brazil on June 17 in Group E. It then faces Serbia on June 22 and Costa Rica on June 27.
PERU 3-0 SAUDI ARABIA
Peru captain Paolo Guerrero scored twice in a 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia in a World Cup warm-up Sunday on his comeback, three days after a Swiss supreme court ruling put his doping ban on hold.
Guerrero looked every bit the inspirational leader Peru campaigned to clear for action at its first World Cup appearance in 36 years.
Peru already led 1-0 when Guerrero followed up to score from close range in the 41st minute after an initial shot was saved.
Guerrero's header from Andre Carrillo's cross in the 64th brought more adulation from a partisan Peruvian crowd in neutral St. Gallen, Switzerland, near both teams' training camps.
Carrillo opened the scoring with a stunning left-foot volley in the 20th.
Guerrero could yet have to complete a 14-month ban imposed by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport for his positive test for metabolites of cocaine at a World Cup qualifying game last October.
Still, a Switzerland Federal Tribunal judge said Thursday the ban should not apply until Guerrero's appeal is heard in full after the World Cup. Peru is in Group C with France, Denmark and Australia. It plays its first game against Denmark on June 16.
The 67th-ranked Saudis are the lowest-rated team at the World Cup, and play Russia in the opening game on June 14 in Group A.
MEXICO 1-0 SCOTLAND
Giovani Dos Santos scored the lone goal as Mexico continued their World Cup preparation with a 1-0 win over Scotland at the Estadio Azteca.
It was a tough loss for the Scots, who finish their American tour with two defeats.
The Mexicans will play Denmark in their final warm-up game before heading to Russia.
COSTA RICA 3-0 NORTHERN IRELAND
Costa Rica have enjoyed a 3-0 win over Northern Ireland as they prepare to head to the World Cup.
Goals from Johan Venegas, Francisco Calvo and Arsenal's Joel Campbell propelled the Costa Ricans to an emphatic victory.
They'll play England and Belgium in their next two clashes before taking beginning their Russian campaign on June 17 against Serbia.