Johannesburg – Brazil go into their last-16 clash against South Korea on Monday, rocked by a spate of injuries and coming off the back of a disappointing 1-0 loss to Cameroon in their final group stage game at the Qatar World Cup.
Their dangerous striker Gabriel Jesus and left back Alex Telles were ruled out of the tournament with injuries over the weekend, while starting fullbacks Danilo and Alex Sandro are also battling to shake off injuries ahead of the knockout match against South Korea.
For Brazil and their coach Tite, however, there is the huge boost of their talisman, Neymar likely to be fit again after spraining his ankle in their opening match of the tournament.
Neymar declared himself fit and raring to go this weekend on his social media platforms, though it remains to be seen whether he will take his place on the pitch against the South Koreans.
The Selecao could certainly use the magic of Neymar to spark them back to life in Qatar.
They rested many of their first-choice players against Cameroon, but would still have been bitterly disappointed to lose to the Indomitable Lions, a defeat that nearly cost them top spot in their group.
Such is the quality and aura of Brazil, especially during a World Cup, that it won’t take much for them to be back at their brilliant best.
Should Neymar take his place upfront, even without Jesus, they still have plenty of players capable of taking them closer to World Cup glory, with the likes of Real Madrid duo Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr, as well as Antony and Richarlison all capable of turning up the heat.
Expect Brazil to be back to their beautiful best and edge this tie against the South Koreans, but not without a mighty fight.
The South Koreans have made it to a World Cup semi-final before at home back in 2002, and they have built up plenty of international experience to back themselves against any opponents – even Brazil.
If you know what to expect from the flamboyant, entertaining Brazilians, so too you also know what you’re going to get from the South Koreans.
The Tigers of Asia will bring plenty of heart, spirit and non-stop energy into the match. They will give it their all from the first whistle to the last – a quality they showed in their final group match as they stunned Portugal with a winner deep into injury time.
So, Brazil will be foolish to take this one lightly, or else the next plane out of Qatar will be heading to Sao Paolo rather than Seoul.
South Korea will rely on the mercurial Son Heung-min to lead them against the favourites, after he ran himself into the ground to lay the foundation for their dramatic come-from-behind 2-1 win over Portugal as he set up Wolves’ Hwang Hee-chan for the winner.
The South Koreans are looking for “another miracle” against Brazil in what has been a tournament of surprises, but that might be asking a little too much, and it should be the Selecao who prevail at the 974 Stadium – but only just.
Doctor Khumalo’s Prediction: Brazil 2 South Korea 1
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