Brazil’s friendly against Croatia at Anfield on Sunday was a game of two halves—the one where Brazil was playing without Neymar and looked second best and then the one where Neymar made his return from injury and they eased their way to a 2-0 victory.
It wasn’t just Neymar coming on that had the South Americans looking better. The introduction of Roberto Firmino on 60 minutes further improved their play, and manager Tite says the Liverpool man has a real chance at displacing Gabriel Jesus at the World Cup.
“Firmino has virtues and quality, that’s why he’s here,” said the Brazil manager. “He’s putting pressure on Jesus—the competition is close and at any time he can enter the team, except on the wing, because I understand that he is better playing central.”
Both of Brazil’s goals, first Neymar’s assisted by Philippe Coutinho and then Firmino’s to seal things in stoppage time, occurred after the Liverpool striker came on and showed his typical tireless tenacity in running, pressing, and linking play from the front.
When it comes to whether he starts at the World Cup in Russia, though, some Liverpool fans may have conflicted feelings. On one hand, it certainly wouldn’t hurt Liverpool’s chances next season if Firmino sees a little less action with the national team.
On the other hand, few players deserve the chance at a starring turn for their country like he does, at 26 this is his best chance at that on football’s biggest stage, and as it’s clearly an opportunity he’s fighting for most will want him to get that opportunity.
Long-term for Brazil it’s clear Jesus is the chosen striker. Based on league form, though, right now Firmino is the player who should start—and having Neymar plus one of Willian or Jesus play off him seems a perfect way to get the best out of their squad.
Certainly on Sunday against Croatia that seemed to be the case. Now the only question is how Tite sees it, with one final warm-up match for Brazil to come—against Austria on the tenth—that should go a long way towards giving us the answer.