Thursday, November 23, 2017
Sports

Brazil manages emotions

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SAO PAULO, Brazil — Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has decided to stay with his Brazilian team despite the death of his nephew in an accident two days before the opening match of the World Cup.

Scolari attended a team news conference Wednesday and did not travel to be with his family in southern Brazil, where Tarcisio Joao Schneider, 48, died in a car accident Tuesday. He also took charge of the team's training session at the Itaquerao Stadium, where Brazil plays Croatia in the tournament opener today.

Scolari said he was drawing strength from seeing his players' dedication in their preparations.

"I find the strength by working with this group, in this environment, where the players are dedicating themselves to their goal day after day," Scolari said. "This helps me leave the sadness behind and stick to the positive things that are happening.

"Sometimes we have to deal with some difficulties, but you have to try to move on.

Highway police in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul said Schneider, the son of one of Scolari's sisters, died when the car he was driving collided head-on with a truck on the opposite lane.

At a packed news conference at the Itaquerao Stadium, Scolari got some laughs out of Brazilian star Neymar and journalists. Asked if he was expecting a good night of sleep Wednesday, he didn't hesitate to say he was at peace. At least with the football side of things.

"I always sleep well," he said. "I don't know if I do other things well, but I do sleep well. I'll sleep well (Wednesday night), you can be sure of that."

Sitting next to Scolari, Neymar looked a bit surprised with the answer but laughed when the coach smiled.

Neymar made Scolari laugh when he was told by a reporter to ask the coach a question.

After thinking for a bit, the striker said: "Will I play tomorrow?"

Neymar, 22, knows he carries the hopes of the host country. Neymar didn't hide that he was anxious and excited to finally get going in the home tournament.

"It's time," he said, admitting to goose bumps when he heard Scolari talk about the team's debut at the news conference. "The time everybody had been waiting for has arrived."

Neymar is Brazil's biggest star, and a good performance by him is key to his team's hopes of reaching the final. With the No. 10 shirt made famous by Pele on his back, Neymar is aware of the expectations.

"It's an honor to be where I am today," he said. "My friends keep telling me that I'm fulfilling their dreams too, not only mine, by playing in a World Cup here in Brazil. I hope I can play well and help my team the best way I can so we can fulfill the dream of every Brazilian by winning the title."

Neymar had already attracted most of the attention in Brazil, even before his high-profile transfer to Barcelona in Spain's top league last year. With the experience gained by playing alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, his responsibilities have only increased.

He is Brazil's leading scorer ahead of the World Cup, with 31 goals in 49 matches. Striker Fred is the closest to him with 17 goals in 34 matches.

Neymar said he knows his importance to the team but tried to downplay any idea that Brazil is about just him.

"I don't play by myself," Neymar said. "There are 11 players on the field, and everybody knows their role and what they need to do to try to help our team make it far in the tournament."

For a long time, Neymar was criticized for his lackluster performances with Brazil. But he proved his worth at last year's Confederations Cup, winning the World Cup warmup tournament's Golden Ball award as its best player and scoring in a 3-0 victory over defending World Cup champion Spain in the final.

Neymar said he will have only one goal in mind when the World Cup begins.

"I don't want to be the best player. I don't want to be the top scorer," Neymar said. "All I want is to win the World Cup title.

"It's what I always dreamed about. It doesn't matter how it happens, I just want to win the title."

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