SINGAPORE, Singapore, Oct 13 – Neymar limped off injured early on as Brazil played out a 1-1 friendly draw against a spirited Nigeria at the Singapore National Stadium on Sunday.
The five-time world champions fell behind in the first half, but Casemiro’s equaliser early in the second period spared their blushes before Brazil wasted a string of chances to leave Southeast Asia with a victory after also being held by Senegal on Thursday.
Brazil started well, with Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino firing just wide in the third minute after a smart turn near the penalty spot.
However, Brazil were dealt a major blow when Neymar limped off in the 12th minute with what appeared to be a left thigh problem — the Paris Saint-Germain striker replaced by Bayern Munich’s Philippe Coutinho to bring a premature end to his 101st international appearance.
Neymar’s return to Champions League action may now be delayed, with PSG facing Club Brugge on October 22 after the world’s most expensive player missed the first two games through suspension.
“During the match he felt a muscle injury, so I took him off as a precaution,” Brazil coach Tite said.
“Neymar did not have a muscle issue before the match. I would never start a player if they had a hint of a problem like this, I would never pay that price,” Tite added of the 27-year-old, who has suffered a string of injuries since his move from Barcelona to PSG in 2017.
“My career has taught me that I would never use a player if he was not in condition to play. It would be irresponsible of me to risk a player carrying an injury.”
– Resolute opposition –
Neymar will be disappointed he was unable to draw level with Brazil legend Ronaldo, who sits second in the country’s all-time scoring list behind Pele, on 62 international goals this week.
But Nigeria provided resolute opposition by working hard to prevent the South Americans from forging many clear openings.
Gabriel Jesus, Firmino and Coutinho all went close for Brazil, but it was Nigeria who took the lead in the 35th minute when Joe Aribo burst through a gap in the South Americans’ defence and skipped around Marquinhos before firing low past goalkeeper Ederson from close range.
The smart strike was the English-born player’s second goal in two appearance for Nigeria after the Rangers midfielder scored on his debut against Ukraine last month.
A more determined Brazil needed just three minutes after the interval to draw level, however, as Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro slotted home after a Marquinhos header had rattled the crossbar following a well-worked corner.
Brazil ramped up the pressure as the match progressed, stretching the Nigeria defence with sharp passing and clever movement as Casemiro, Jesus and half-time substitute Richarlison all came close to giving their side the lead.
Tite’s men poured forward in search of a winner with Coutinho guilty of wasting a glorious opportunity with five minutes remaining when the unmarked midfielder’s weak effort was cleared off the line by Semi Ajayi.
“I thought it was a good match for us and we created plenty of chances but just could not get that second goal,” Tite added. “We definitely missed Neymar’s creativity after he went off.”