Brasilia: Neymar has urged his Brazil teammates to rescue some of their battered pride after the humiliating World Cup semi-final defeat to Germany by beating the Netherlands in Saturday’s third-place playoff, here, at the Estadio Nacional.
The 22-year-old superstar returned to Brazil’s training camp in Teresopolis on Thursday for the first time since his injury to raise the battered spirits of his teammates.
Neymar was able to walk unaided to greet the players who were training at the time of his arrival, and he will accompany the team to their playoff tie.
The playoff is one game that no team ever wants to take part in, but the encounter gained significance after the hosts’ dream of winning their sixth Cup title was shattered at the Maracana by a rampant Germany the other evening.
The match could prove to be Luiz Felipe Scolari’s last in charge for the Selecao and the coach is likely to make changes to a team whose confidence has been so badly damaged.
Captain Thiago Silva is set for a return after suspension, while his Paris Saint-Germain colleague Maxwell, the only outfield player yet to feature, may play a part.
Despite Neymar’s rallying cry, almost all of those involved in Brasilia would rather be elsewhere, with Daniel Alves making clear his lack of appetite for the bronze-medal clash.
“The important thing is first place. Nothing else matters,” said the right-back. “We represent millions of people, so we have to digest this defeat and take the field on Saturday.
“But for me, every game is about being first.”
Similar is the mood in the Dutch camp. The Oranje have had a day less to prepare for the match after their agonising defeat on penalties to Argentina in Wednesday’s second semi-final in Sao Paulo.
However, in contrast to Brazil, Netherlands will be able to look back on a campaign, which started with a 5-1 thumping of 2010 champions Spain, as a success.
“We have had a fantastic tournament. Nobody expected us to get beyond the group stage,” said coach Louis van Gaal, who will take charge of Manchester United after this World Cup.
“We had a day less for rest, which is not very fair. Anyhow, the third-place playoff is pointless. I was saying that 15 years ago, as you can have a fantastic tournament and then finish with two defeats.
“So, in a football tournament, particularly not at the last stage, you shouldn’t have players playing a match that finalises the third and fourth places.
“There is only one award that counts and that is becoming world champion,” added Van Gaal.
Nevertheless, the way in which Van Gaal’s superbly organised side performed throughout the competition suggests they are quite capable of inflicting more pain on Brazil.
With the sole exception of third-choice goalkeeper Michel Vorm, every member of the Dutch squad played a part at the tournament, but Van Gaal may choose to give younger players such as Jordy Clasie and Memphis Depay a start in this game.
Nigel de Jong could miss out after surprisingly featuring for an hour against Argentina, just 10 days after tearing a groin muscle in the last-16 win over Mexico.
The match will be the fifth meeting of Brazil and Netherlands at the World Cup, with both sides having recorded two victories so far. The Netherlands emerged winners at the last-eight meeting in South Africa four years ago, winning 2-1.
Van Gaal’s assistant Patrick Kluivert said that the Dutch would strive for victory. “It would be wonderful to close this World Cup by winning, but we still won’t be satisfied,” Kluivert said, adding: “The third place, though, gives you a much better feeling than the fourth… We must win the game.”
Scolari, too, feels players should honour the national team jersey.
“I know my career will be marked by the semi-final defeat, but we have an obligation to move on and think about the next goal, which in this case is the match for third place,” Scolari said.
“I know it’s a much smaller dream compared to what we all wanted. But we have to honour the national team jersey.”
Scolari will meet with officials of the Brazilian Football Confederation following the match to discuss his future. He insists having done a good job with the players he has at his disposal.
“We made the semi-finals - the top four teams in the world,” he said. “And there were a lot of good teams that were knocked out before us.”
Silva wants the fans to get behind their team this weekend. “This is a bad time, so we need strength from our fans,” said the defender.
“I guarantee that we will play this Saturday's game as if it were the final.”