It was the news that Brazil supporters and punters have been waiting for: Neymar is expected to make a full recovery from his broken foot in time to take his place at the World Cup in Russia.
The 26-year-old suffered the metatarsal injury in PSG’s 3-0 win over Marseille back in February. The break was more complicated than first feared, and the winger had to go in for corrective surgery.
But his recovery has gone well, and after an examination revealed no further damage last week he has been cleared to return to training in May.
Brazil open their account against Switzerland on June 17, so Neymar will have to get his skates on if he is to be fit in time to start his nation’s pursuit of the Jules Rimet trophy.
“I hope to get there in great shape,” he said in Sao Paulo this week. “I get my final examination on May 17 and then I’ll be free to play.
“I had an examination last week, it is all perfect, evolving well, so I hope that continues so I can get back as soon as possible.
“From the moment I start training I am going to work harder than I ever worked because this is a dream that’s coming up. It’s a World Cup. I’ve waited four years for this chance, it’s close.”
It had been a stellar campaign for the Brazilian prior to his injury, having scored 25 goals and created 16 others as PSG romped to the Ligue 1 title. That form, coupled with Brazil’s excellent progress since their debacle in the last World Cup, has seen their odds of lifting the trophy in Russia slashed to just 19/4 – making them joint favourites with Germany.
You may recall their 1-7 humbling at the hands of the Germans in the World Cup they hosted four years ago, but confidence has been restored with an Olympic gold medal triumph and progressing as the top team from the tough South American qualification group.
Perhaps most pertinently, they have a number of players coming into their prime – including Neymar, assuming he is fit.
So Brazil are set to be boosted by the return of their talisman ahead of the summer showdown, but who else looks likely to miss out on football’s greatest showpiece occasion?
Possibly the best goalkeeper on the planet could miss out on the biggest stage.
— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) April 19, 2017
It has been a season to forget for Neuer, who hasn’t played a single game for Bayern Munich since September after suffering a succession of injuries.
Germany’s number one suffered a hairline fracture to his foot early on in the campaign which simply hasn’t healed, and now Neuer, like Neymar, faces a race against time to be fit for his nation’s attempt to defend their crown this summer.
The Real Madrid frontman hasn’t featured for France in the best part of three years, and that hiatus doesn’t look likely to end anytime soon with Didier Deschamps in charge of Les Bleus.
The 29-year-old became embroiled in that bizarre scandal where he allegedly blackmailed teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape, and he hasn’t pulled on the famous blue shirt since.
Deschamps has confirmed that he hasn’t selected Benzema for fear of upsetting others in his squad, and with attacking options including Alexandre Lacazette, Olivier Giroud, Anthony Martial, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann at his disposal there is no real need to do so.
All Benzema can do at this point is pray.
Aguero, Dybala, Higuain, Messi….Argentine aren’t exactly lacking in star talent in attack.
Even so, there is strength in numbers, and you might have expected their head coach Jorge Sampaoli to call upon the services of Icardi, a supremely talented frontman who has bludgeoned 25 goals in just 29 games for Inter Milan this term.
But he was left out of the squad for his country’s friendlies against Spain and Italy, and that would suggest – for now at least – Icardi isn’t in the manager’s thoughts.
Don’t underestimate the influence wielded by Diego Maradona too. The Hand of God isn’t involved with the national side anymore but still regularly contributes to the media, and his cutting words about Icardi will hardly help his cause. “He [Sampaoli] does not have a number nine that can score, even though he can continue calling up that embarrassment [Icardi],” Maradona said.
“Higuain is ten times better than Icardi, [Icardi] doesn’t know anything. What he does know is to go to his friend’s house and ‘eat out’.”
That last barb was an insinuation regarding Icardi’s nocturnal activities; the Inter frontman allegedly having an affair with a teammate’s wife.
Colombia progressed all the way to the quarter-finals in 2014, guided by the fine form of James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado.
Unfortunately the latter has been struggling for quite some time with a recurring groin injury, and the Juventus winger has undergone surgery in an attempt to recover in time for the Russian expedition.
Speaking back in March, Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri said: “If you ask me ‘is Cuadrado’s season over?’ Hopefully not, but right now Cuadrado isn’t available.
“It’s an inflammation, these things can go away in two days, they can last three months or they can last six months. We hope not.”