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ZICO: Neymar is hugely important for Brazil

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Doha, Qatar | FIFA.COM | Brazil are no longer solely dependent on their scintillating superstar to go far in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. That said, the so-called Neymar-dependence may make sense if the attacking midfielder is not on the pitch. Confused? The legendary Zico explains.

“This dependence has no longer been evident when Neymar plays, provided he’s on the pitch. It’s different when he’s out,” Zico told FIFA+ in Doha. “When he’s on the pitch all eyes are on him, which opens up space for others, giving them more chance to get the job done. “When he’s not on the pitch, every player has to find a way to win the game. People think it’s the same thing, but it’s not.”

Zico believes the Seleção can win Qatar 2022 even if Neymar is not in the team or in top form. The good news is that he has recovered well from the badly-sprained ankle that he picked up in the opening match against Serbia, and will play the last-16 encounter against Korea Republic on Monday. “Brazil are capable of winning, for sure, but it would be good for him to play,” said Zico. “He was the cherry on top of the cake. He was in great physical shape; better than before the World Cup. “You see Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, who are players with a similar impact to Neymar. Whether they play badly or play well they can decide a match in any instant, but they can also worry the opponents and open up space for others. This is why Neymar is hugely important for the Seleção.”

In his last World Cup, at Mexico 1986, the Flamengo idol went through a similar experience to Neymar. He was 33, three years older than Neymar is now, and was battling against a knee injury. His place on the team was a national debate, and of course he wore the No10 shirt. The similarities, however, stop there. “What I went through in 1986 was caused by a pre-tournament injury,” he said. “I needed a knee operation. It was different. I shouldn’t have gone. I disrespected my heart and things went badly.” In his final tournament for Brazil, Zico was held back in the first two games. He came off the bench in the wins against Northern Ireland and Poland, and then in the elimination against France – one of the most dramatic matches in Brazilian football history. Now Zico’s only wish is that Neymar can play the best football possible for someone who is coming off an injury. “The problem with the ankle is you have to have confidence to go on the pitch, even if you are in some pain,” he said. “I played several times with my ankle securely bandaged up. You can run and you can’t worry about it. “Sometimes you feel the pain up to two months later. The important thing is that you can make natural movements and manoeuvre your foot, up to your pain threshold.”

Thinking about these limitations, Zico’s advice to Neymar is to pass the ball quickly to avoid clashing with his adversaries, at least until he gets near the penalty area. “He can avoid holding the ball in places where he cannot hurt the opponents,” said the 69-year-old. “If he has the ball at his feet in midfield, they’ll come in hard on him. But if he has the ball at his feet near the box, near the goal, that’s where we know he can cause danger.”

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