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Neymar, Brazil arrive in Russia as clock ticks down to World Cup start

Image: Reuters

The five-time World Cup winners arrived in Sochi, the Black Sea resort city where they will be based, just before 3am local time

Neymar and his Brazil teammates landed on Russian soil in the early hours of Monday morning, fresh from beating Austria 3-0 in their final warm-up outing ahead of the World Cup.

As the clock ticks down to Thursday’s tournament opener in Moscow between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia, the five-time World Cup winners arrived in Sochi, the Black Sea resort city where they will be based, just before 3am local time (0000 GMT).

The Brazilians made the journey with their confidence boosted after Neymar marked his first start in more than three months by scoring in the victory over the Austrians in Vienna.

Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho also netted either side of Neymar’s goal, as the Paris Saint-Germain superstar confirmed his return to fitness following foot surgery in early March.

The goal was Neymar’s 55th in a Brazil shirt, allowing him to draw level with Romario on his country’s list of all-time leading scorers – only Pele and Ronaldo have scored more goals for Brazil.

The 26-year-old had come off the bench to score in last weekend’s 2-0 win over Croatia in Liverpool, his first appearance since breaking a bone in his foot playing for PSG in February.

Sunday’s goal was a superb effort, the former Barcelona man controlling Willian’s chipped pass on his thigh just inside the box and then leaving Austrian defender Aleksandar Dragovic on the floor with some delightful footwork before rolling the ball home.

Brazil coach Tite said he felt “extremely proud” of his team, although he said they could be more clinical.

“I don’t know Neymar’s limits,” he said. “His technical and creative capacity is impressive. When we get him in the last third of the field he is lethal.”

Drawn in Group E, Brazil, who are second behind defending world champions Germany in the FIFA rankings, begin their campaign against Switzerland next Sunday, June 17, before also taking on Costa Rica and Serbia.

Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo trained with Portugal on Sunday, as the European champions held their first World Cup training session at the team’s base in Kratovo, southeast of Moscow, five days ahead of their heavyweight opening clash against Spain.

All 23 players in Fernando Santos’s squad took part in a 90-minute open session held in light drizzle and chilly temperatures hovering just above 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).

Ronaldo’s presence elicited cheers from the 100 or so fans in attendance, with a similar number of media present along the touchline. The European champions play Spain in the 2014 Winter Olympics host city Sochi in the opening match for both nations on Friday.

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