Moscow (AFP) – Neymar scored on his return to the starting line-up in Brazil’s final World Cup warm-up on Sunday as Cristiano Ronaldo trained with European champions Portugal and Mohamed Salah touched down in Russia.
As the clock ticks down to Thursday’s World Cup opener in Moscow between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia, Neymar found the net for the second time in a week in a morale-boosting 3-0 win against Austria.
Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho netted either side of Neymar’s strike in Vienna as the world’s most expensive player confirmed his return to fitness following a foot operation three months ago.
The Brazilians are due to arrive in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi in the early hours of Monday ahead of their opening game against Switzerland on June 17.
Neymar’s goal was his 55th in a Brazil shirt, allowing him to draw level with Romario on his country’s list of all-time leading scorers — only Pele and Ronaldo have scored more goals for Brazil than the Paris Saint-Germain superstar.
The 26-year-old had come off the bench to score in last weekend’s 2-0 win over Croatia in Liverpool, his first appearance since breaking a bone in his foot playing for PSG in February.
Sunday’s goal was a superb effort, the former Barcelona man controlling Willian’s chipped pass on his thigh just inside the box and then leaving Austrian defender Aleksandar Dragovic on the floor with some delightful footwork before rolling the ball home.
Drawn in Group E, Brazil, who are second behind defending world champions Germany in the FIFA rankings, will face Costa Rica and Serbia after Switzerland.
– Ronaldo cheers –
Ronaldo’s Portugal held their first World Cup training session at the team’s base in Kratovo, southeast of Moscow, five days ahead of their heavyweight opening clash against Spain.
All 23 players in Fernando Santos’s squad took part in a 90-minute open training session held in light drizzle and chilly temperatures hovering just above 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).
Ronaldo’s presence elicited cheers from the 100 or so fans in attendance, with a similar number of media present along the touchline.
The European champions play Spain in the 2014 Winter Olympics host city Sochi in the opening match for both nations on Friday.
Santos’s side will need no reminding of the importance of their opening match against Spain, after a 4-0 defeat by Germany in Brazil four years ago set the tone for a dismal group stage exit.
The winner at Sochi’s Fisht stadium will be in pole position to come out on top in a group that also includes Morocco and Iran.
The top two teams from each group qualify for the last 16.
Egypt are banking on the availability of Liverpool forward Salah, who was injured in the Champions League final, as they try to qualify from the group stages for the first time.
The player attended Egypt’s final training session in Cairo on Saturday but did not take part, restricting himself to briefly dribbling the ball on the corner of the pitch.
“The team is ready for the competition and morale is high,” national team manager Ihab Leheta told AFP at Grozny airport.
As teams fine-tune their preparations, highly fancied Spain laboured to a narrow 1-0 victory against Tunisia at their base in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar.
Iago Aspas scored the only goal for the 2010 champions against fellow World Cup qualifiers Tunisia seven minutes from the end of Saturday’s match.
France looked flat in a 1-1 draw against the United States in Lyon despite an improved performance from Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba.
Julian Green gave the US, who failed to qualify for Russia, the lead on the stroke of half-time but Paris Saint-Germain teenager Kylian Mbappe equalised for the hosts.
Argentina, 2014 finalists, are in Russia looking to re-focus after their World Cup preparations were thrown off track when their match against Israel was called off.