Neymar lands in Russia, Messi casts doubt over SWC future
Neymar and Roberto Firmino (Supplied)
Moscow - Brazil arrived in Russia on Monday hungry to
make amends for their World Cup humiliation in 2014 with Neymar apparently
fighting fit, as Lionel Messi cast doubt over his international future.
The Brazilians landed in the early hours in Sochi, the
Black Sea resort where they will be based, buoyant after beating Austria 3-0 in
their final warm-up match.
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Most of the favourites are now in Russia ahead of
Thursday's curtain raiser between the hosts and Saudi Arabia but holders
Germany are due to arrive on Tuesday.
The atmosphere is low-key ahead of the opening match
at Moscow's imposing 80,000-capacity Luzhniki stadium.
Russia was a disputed choice when it was handed the
World Cup in a closely watched 2010 vote that has since been tainted by bribery
charges and the tournament takes place against a background of international
Russia and the West have engaged in a major wave of
tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions since London accused Moscow of being behind
the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Britain in March.
Brazil's Neymar, who broke a bone in his foot in
February, marked his first start in more than three months by scoring in
Sunday's easy victory in Vienna while Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho also
It was Neymar's 55th goal 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 more goals for their country.
"I don't know Neymar's limits," Brazil coach
Tite said. "His technical and creative capacity is impressive. When we get
him in the last third of the field he is lethal."
Brazil, who crashed out of the last World Cup on home
soil in a humiliating 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany, start their campaign
against Switzerland in Rostov-on-Don on Sunday.
Argentina captain Messi, one of the biggest stars in
Russia, said his international future will be determined by his country's
performance at the World Cup.
"It will depend on how far we go, how we're going
to finish" at the finals, Messi said in an interview with Spanish daily
"We've just lost three finals in a row, which has
led to us going through some difficult moments with the press," added the
Argentina lost the 2014 World Cup final 1-0 to Germany
after extra time, before suffering successive defeats by Chile on penalties at
the Copa America in 2015 and 2016.
Messi, who will turn 31 during the World Cup, believes
Spain, Brazil, Germany, France and Belgium are the leading contenders for the
A big question mark hangs over the participation of
Egypt and Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah, who is still receiving treatment for
the shoulder injury he suffered in the Champions League final.
Egypt are banking on the availability of Salah as they
try to get past the first stage of a World Cup for the first time.
The Egyptians arrived at their base in the Chechen
capital Grozny on Sunday, after Salah sat out their final training session in
Once they touched down, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov
was among the first to greet Salah.
Team doctor Mohamed Abou al-Ela admitted the striker,
who scored 44 goals for Liverpool this season, was unlikely to play in Egypt's
opening Group A match against Uruguay on Friday.
"He still feels pain... this type of injury needs
a recovery period of three weeks before going back to the field," he said.
While the favourites limber up, host nation Russia are
under intense pressure as they prepare to open the tournament.
Ranked a lowly 70 in the world, Russia have not won
for seven consecutive games.
President Vladimir Putin, who has spent billions to
put on the biggest sports event in Russia since the 1980 Moscow Olympics, has
exhorted the team to raise their level.
"I must acknowledge the fact that, unfortunately,
our team have not achieved big results in recent times," Putin said last
Before Thursday's kickoff, FIFA will focus on choosing
the host of the 2026 World Cup between a joint bid featuring the United States,
Canada and Mexico and underdogs Morocco.
FIFA member states will vote on the issue at their
congress on Wednesday.