Moscow (AFP) – Neymar made his first start since February in Brazil’s final World Cup warm-up match on Sunday as Cristiano Ronaldo trained with European champions Portugal.
As the clock ticks down to Thursday’s World Cup opener in Moscow between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia, Egypt’s Mohamed Salah touched down, facing his own fitness battle.
Neymar, who broke a bone in his foot in February, made an explosive return to action against Croatia in Liverpool last weekend, scoring a stunning goal in a 2-0 win for the five-time world champions after coming on as a substitute.
The Paris Saint-German star declared himself “80 percent” fit and Sunday’s run-out in Vienna should leave him fully primed for Brazil’s opener against Switzerland on June 17.
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’s Portugal held their first World Cup training session on Sunday 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 cheers –
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 on June 15 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.
Pogba had been jeered a week ago in a 3-1 victory over Italy but it was his pass that teed up Mbappe to save face for the Euro 2016 finalists in a match they were expected to win.
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 and Australia arrived on Sunday.