Neymar continues to struggle to come to terms with Brazil's World Cup exit, saying that he "still hurts like hell from loss".

Pre-tournament favourites Brazil were bundled out of the World Cup by Croatia 4-2 on penalties after the game ended 1-1 following extra time.

Neymar, who scored a brilliant goal in extra-time but did not take a spot kick in the 4-2 penalty shoot-out loss, wrote on Instagram on Saturday that he was "psychologically destroyed" by the loss and doubled down on that with another post on Sunday upon his return to his homeland.

"On Brazilian soil… still hurts like hell from loss, we were so close, so close," Neymar wrote. "Unfortunately or fortunately I still haven't learned to lose. Defeats make me stronger, but they hurt me too much and I'm still not used to it.

"Anyway, we have to move on... life moves us on, even if it hurts and the hurt takes time to heal, we have to move on.

"Once again I want to thank the Brazilian people for their support and affection. Hearing from you that we fought, delivered until the end comforts a little of our pain.

"Thank you Qatar for everything. The cup was beautiful and she had to be from Brazil to crown it all, but by God's destiny it wasn't."

It has been speculated that this will be 30-year-old Neymar's final World Cup, and he was reluctant to commit to playing on for his country in the immediate aftermath of the game.

He added on Instagram: "We keep going... Now it's to turn off the key, take advantage of family and friends, recharge energies because dealing with this defeat will be very difficult, it still hurts me A LOT! FAITH."

Neymar also reserved a special 'open letter' post for 61-year-old Brazil head coach Tite, who has stepped down from the role following the World Cup after six-and-a-half years in charge.

"I knew you as a coach and I already knew you were very good but as a person you are MUCH BETTER!," Neymar wrote. "I come here to openly thank you for everything, all the teachings you've given us... and there were so many.

"You will always be one of the best coaches I've ever had or will have, I will always lift you up. We had beautiful moments but we also had moments that hurt us a lot and the latter will hurt us for a long time.

"You deserved to be crowned with this cup. We all deserved it for everything we did and for everything we gave up to try to achieve our biggest dream. But God didn't want it that way, patience. God has given us EVERYTHING!"

Ronaldo revealed Brazil approached Pep Guardiola to become their new head coach before the Manchester City boss renewed his contract with the Premier League champions.

The Selecao are preparing for life after Tite, who guided them to the World Cup quarter-finals before suffering penalty shoot-out heartbreak against Croatia on Friday.

The 61-year-old announced in February he would leave his role irrespective of how the five-time champions fared in Qatar.

Legendary striker Ronaldo says the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) had spoken with former Barcelona and Bayern Munich head coach Guardiola, who subsequently opted to extend his stay at the Etihad Stadium until 2025.

"There was interest in Guardiola; it was discussed with Guardiola's coaching staff, but he preferred to renew his contract with City," the 2002 World Cup winner said on his YouTube channel.

"Perhaps it would be difficult for the CBF to reach an agreement; he is the highest-paid coach in the world."

Ronaldo believes the CBF should now turn their attention to the "Brazilian Guardiola" in Fernando Diniz – the Fluminense head coach renowned for his attractive possession-based style of play.

"Perhaps Diniz would be an attraction for the Brazilian national team," he added. "He's a guy who plays well, puts on a show.

"It is a very important decision for the next cycle. The sooner you present the name and start working on the philosophy of the coach, the better it will be. And we'll see. I'm curious. I think big names are coming here."

Dani Alves has thanked outgoing Brazil coach Tite following the Selecao's shock World Cup elimination, declaring: "There are some medals you don't wear on your chest, but on your soul."

The five-time winners succumbed to a surprise quarter-final exit on Friday, losing 4-2 to Croatia in a penalty shoot-out after Bruno Petkovic cancelled out Neymar's opening goal late in extra time.

Alves became Brazil's oldest player to feature at the World Cup during their group-stage defeat to Cameroon earlier this month (aged 39 years and 210 days), but was an unused substitute as Tite's side slipped to a second consecutive last-eight exit.

Tite revealed in February that he would leave his role irrespective of how Brazil's World Cup campaign ended, and despite the pain of Friday's defeat, Alves remains grateful for the 61-year-old's work with the team.

Writing on Instagram alongside an image of the pair embracing, Alves said: "This hug is the purest meaning of what you represent to me and to this group of special human beings.

"Special for their particularities, for their character, for their humility and above all, for the stories of overcoming difficulties and for the great souls that exist behind the small screen.

"There are some medals you don't wear on your chest, but on your soul, and this is one.

"Thank you for teaching us how to be men, children, friends, brothers and human beings. It may be that what we have today has no value, or it may be that there are still beings who still believe how valuable and important it is.

"This is our last trip here, and I can tell you; I would not change a thing. I wish you all the wonderful and purest things in this life and the next.

"May you have the peace that I will also take with me. The peace of duty fulfilled and mission accomplished. The result of a game will never change the score of our lives.

"With great affection and respect, thank you for all these years together in the promise of representing the best country in the world."

Only fellow full-backs Cafu (143) and Roberto Carlos (127) have won more senior caps for Brazil than Alves (126), and the Barcelona great is under no illusions that his own association with the World Cup is over.

However, he hopes the same cannot be said for Neymar, who refused to give any guarantees on his international future in the aftermath of the Selecao's defeat.

Speaking after Friday's game, Alves told reporters: "This World Cup was my last one. For me, it's time to say that. But I don't think it will be the same for Neymar. He's great, Brazilian football needs him to keep going."

Neymar condemned his former agent Wagner Ribeiro for claiming Brazil boss Tite was never fit for office and "spent years deceiving the people".

The criticism followed Brazil's World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of Croatia, who stunned the Selecao in a penalty shoot-out on Friday after a 1-1 draw.

Defeat marked the end of Tite's six-and-a-half-year tenure as Brazil head coach, with the 61-year-old confirming his "cycle is over" following the game.

Ribeiro posted a picture of Tite on Instagram, and wrote: "This man was never a football coach. He spent years deceiving the people, losing 2 cups.

"He's only fit to be the valedictorian of the graduating class."

That prompted an angered response from Neymar, who snapped back: "Don't talk s*** Wagner!"

Tite always planned to step down after the World Cup, regardless of how Brazil got on in Qatar. He announced that intention in February, and Brazil proved unable to live up to their billing as trophy favourites.

Neymar scored a sublime goal in extra time against Croatia to give Brazil the lead, only for Bruno Petkovic's deflected shot to pull the 2018 World Cup runners-up level.

Tite was a serial trophy winner at club level with the likes of Internacional and Corinthians, and he led Brazil to the Copa America title in 2019, although they relinquished their hold on that trophy last year when losing to Argentina in the final.

Cristiano Ronaldo must understand "time passes for everyone" and accept he may no longer be a regular pick for Portugal, former Brazil defender Junior has told Stats Perform.

Free agent Ronaldo has fallen out of favour at club and now international level, having been named among the substitutes for Portugal's 6-1 win over Switzerland on Tuesday.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner is also currently without a club after his contract with Manchester United, where he struggled for playing time, was terminated by mutual consent.

Ronaldo's replacement, Benfica youngster Goncalo Ramos, scored a hat-trick against Switzerland and is now set to keep his place for Saturday's quarter-final tie with Morocco.

Junior, who earned 74 caps for Brazil and appeared at two World Cups, believes Portugal boss Fernando Santos deserves praise for his huge selection call.

"You need to have the courage to put Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench and the coach did," Junior said.

"And there was the answer he got - it was Goncalo Ramos scoring three goals. It's not just for the goals, but for his collective behaviour, I'm talking about the game as a whole.

"Time passes for everyone. Naturally, Cristiano will understand this in the best way so that he can continue to have the great respect that the group has for him. 

"He is the main player of the Portuguese national team for the last 10 years. Just look at everything the Portuguese team did before and after. But time passes for everyone."

Portugal are joined in the last eight of Qatar 2022 by next opponents Morocco, Argentina, the Netherlands, Brazil, Croatia, France and England.

Record five-time champions Brazil, who beat South Korea 4-1 in the last 16, remain the favourites of many to end their 20-year drought and lift the trophy once again.

Richarlison has arguably been Brazil's best player so far in Qatar, the Tottenham man's three goals placing him joint-second in the goalscoring charts behind Kylian Mbappe.

He has led the line in three of Brazil's four games, the exception being the loss to Cameroon when Tite heavily rotated, and Junior has been impressed by the versatile forward.

"Richarlison rebuilt himself within the national team because he was a player who had much more visibility playing on the wings previously," Junior said. 

"When we see him playing the role of centre-forward, we see that he has recovered and is now in the starting line-up. 

"On the sides of the pitch, it'd be difficult for him with Vinicius Junior, Raphinha and Neymar who also play there. So, he started to evolve exactly in that centre-forward position. 

"The goal he scored with a volley in the first game is from a player who has great capacity and great resources when a situation like that presents itself."

 

Tite has made full use of his squad, so much so that he has already used all 26 members of his group – the most ever fielded by a team at a single World Cup.

The Brazil head coach brought on third-choice goalkeeper Weverton against South Korea to complete the set, which Junior says offers an insight into Tite's character.

"As happened in 2006 with Rogerio Ceni, Tite has done the same with Weverton. He's made sure he not only travels to the World Cup but is also on the pitch.

"This type of attitude strengths the group a lot. It's one of Tite's most important qualities: valuing the whole squad, including the third keeper, who rarely plays at a World Cup."

Brazil coach Tite has explained that joining in with his team's celebrations against South Korea was not an act of disrespect to the opposition.

The Selecao ran out 4-1 winners against South Korea on Monday as they sealed their place in the World Cup quarter-finals in style.

Vinicius Junior opened the scoring before Neymar converted a penalty after a foul on Richarlison, who added a sublime third prior to Lucas Paqueta rounding off Brazil's haul.

After Richarlison's goal, which capped a superb move, Tite celebrated with the Tottenham forward by performing the 'pigeon' dance.

He was criticised by some sections of the media, but Tite has explained he meant no disrespect.

"We try to adapt to the athletes' characteristics. They are young, I have to get closer to their language," he said.

"One day we were training and I said to Richarlison 'if you score a goal, I'll dance'.

"I told the players to hide me a little, I know about the visibility.

"I didn't want it to have any other interpretation than the joy of the goal, the result, the performance, but not disrespect for the opponent or Paulo Bento, who I have great respect for."

With his goal, meanwhile, Neymar matched Pele and Ronaldo as the third Brazil player to score at three different World Cups. 

The Paris Saint-Germain star is also just one short of matching Pele's record goal haul of 77 for Brazil.

"Achieving marks is a great source of pride," Neymar said.

"I reached numbers that I would never have imagined reaching, that's always very good. It makes me very happy."

 

Croatia stand between Brazil and a place in the last four.

Brazil have never lost in four previous meetings with Croatia, with this their first meeting since a 2-0 friendly win in June 2018.

Brazil are looking to reach the World Cup semi-final for the ninth time, with only Germany (12) doing so more often. 

Croatia, runners-up in 2018, have reached at least the last four of the competition on both previous occasions they've made it out of the group stages (1998 and 2018).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Brazil – Neymar

Neymar has been involved in 15 goals in his last 11 appearances for Brazil in all competitions (eight goals, seven assists), with each of his last six goals for the national side coming from the penalty spot.

Last time out against South Korea, he became the first Brazil player on record (since 1966) to both score and provide an assist at three different World Cup tournaments.

Croatia – Luka Modric

Real Madrid star Luka Modric was not on the pitch as Croatia progressed past Japan on penalties in the last 16, but if Zlatko Dalic's team are to beat Brazil, the 37-year-old will surely be crucial.

He will go up against former Madrid club-mate Casemiro, and will need the assistance of Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic, but if Modric can wield his influence, Croatia have a chance.

PREDICTION

Croatia have lost four of their five World Cup games against South American sides, with the exception being a 3-0 win over Argentina in 2018. Two of those four defeats have been against Brazil – 1-0 in 2006 and 3-1 in 2014.

Despite getting to the final in Russia, Croatia have been handed only an 11.5 per chance of victory by Opta's model, which has Brazil as the favourites with 68.2 per cent.

The draw is at 20.3 per cent.

Neymar was named in Brazil's starting XI for Monday's World Cup last-16 clash with South Korea after recovering from an ankle injury.

Brazil's talisman was hurt in their victory over Serbia on matchday one and sat out the Selecao's subsequent two group games.

There remained significant doubt regarding the timeline of his return, with Brazil coach Tite saying in Sunday's pre-match press conference it was still uncertain if Neymar would feature against the Taeguk Warriors.

But he was included in the starting XI at Stadium 974 as Brazil looked to plot their way into the last eight of the tournament in a fierce attack alongside Raphinha, Vinicius Jr, Raphinha and Richarlison.

Neymar heads into the game just two goals adrift of Pele (77) in the all-time list for most Brazil goals.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward's efforts to usurp his fellow Santos great has taken on even greater significance in the past week following reports of Pele's worsening health.

Claims in Brazilian media last week suggested Pele was now under palliative care in hospital after his body stopped responding to cancer treatment, although a statement from the 82-year-old on Sunday said he was "strong" and had "a lot of hope".

Having shuffled their pack for the surprise defeat against Cameroon, Tite has named a more familiar XI against South Korea with a total of 10 changes from that loss - Eder Militao being the only player to retain his spot.

 

Brazil's World Cup last-16 clash with South Korea on Monday promises to be an emotional occasion for all associated with the Selecao.

The game comes after reports emerged on Saturday indicating legendary former striker Pele is now receiving palliative care in hospital after his body stopped responding to cancer treatment.

Pele helped Brazil to three World Cup successes and is revered by many as the greatest to ever play the sport.

The 82-year-old, whose condition is stable, remains an iconic figure for Brazilian football, and the team will undoubtedly have him at the front of their minds as they take on South Korea at Stadium 974 on Monday.

Current talisman Neymar will presumably be even more desperate to feature in the match, with tributes to Pele expected from both players and fans.

The Paris Saint-Germain star injured his ankle on matchday one and sat out the rest of the group phase, with Brazil managing to top their section despite defeat to Cameroon on Friday.

Brazil have always been hopeful Neymar will be able to feature in the knockouts, and Tite confirmed on Sunday that the 30-year-old will play as long as he comes through a final training session.

Captain Thiago Silva previously suggested Neymar had a good chance of featuring against Korea.

"It depends a lot on training," he said. "It seems that there will be a test a little more on the field, I don't know if he will put on his boots.

"Only from then on can we pass on something more concrete to you, but until then I cannot pass on ahead of the doctor on this situation.

"[The injury] must be tested, to see how the ankle is, if it will hold up or not, if it will be in a little pain. He will have pain, that's part of it, I've had this type of injury.

"However, if everything goes well as planned, the hope is that he will be available. But I leave that to Tite and the doctor."

Brazil are going to be without Gabriel Jesus and Alex Telles, both of whom have been ruled out for the rest of the tournament.

Nevertheless, they will be firm favourites having progressed from each of their previous seven last-16 matches at the World Cup, last getting eliminated at this stage in 1990 against Argentina.

Similarly, South Korea have not played a knockout game at the tournament since 2010, and their only win (excluding penalties) after the group stages came as co-hosts in 2002 when they beat Italy in the round of 16.

But coach Tite insists Brazil – who beat South Korea 5-1 in June – will not be complacent.

He said: "Brazil lost to Cameroon; Portugal lost to South Korea; France lost to Tunisia; Argentina lost to Saudi Arabia. I think the results speak for themselves.

"I think these are very strong, very tough matches. I don't think we can think any prior situation makes it easy.

"We need to be very careful. We were very careful with the match against Cameroon. We were. We can't say it's easier and we have an advantage. We can't say that."

By the same token, Hwang Hee-chan – scorer of South Korea's decisive goal in the dramatic 2-1 win over Portugal that took them through at the expense of Uruguay – is adamant the Taeguk Warriors are not in the last 16 just to make up the numbers.

"Just because we play Brazil, it won't mean we will be just happy to be there in the knockouts," he said. "Our objective is to win and give our people something to cheer about. We're not just happy to be here. We want to play well and win for our fans."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

South Korea – Kim Jin-su

One of South Korea's main attacking routes in this tournament has been down the left flank, with Kim Jin-su's quality deliveries a real feature.

Only three defenders have recorded more open-play crosses than his 14, while Joao Cancelo (six) is the sole full-back to complete more of them than Kim (five). Cho Gue-sung has proven an aerial threat already in Qatar, and they will need to exploit every strength possible against the Selecao.

 

Brazil – Raphinha

With Kim one of South Korea's biggest dangers, Raphinha will want to be firing on all cylinders to keep the left-back occupied and as deep as possible.

But on top of that, Brazil's injury issues could result in a somewhat makeshift backline. It would seem either the 39-year-old Dani Alves or centre-back Eder Militao will start at right-back, and they will be keen for some support, particularly as Son Heung-min also operates from the left as he did initially against Portugal.

PREDICTION

Brazil are, as expected, massive favourites for this. Stats Perform's AI model gives them a 76.2 per cent chance of progressing to the quarter-finals.

South Korea on the other hand, their rating is just 8.2 per cent. But then again, who had them even getting this far before matchday three?

Brazil coach Tite has slammed the "haters" spreading "evil lies" and "fake news" about Gabriel Jesus' injury.

Arsenal forward Jesus, along with Sevilla defender Alex Telles, will miss the rest of the World Cup with a knee injury sustained in Friday's defeat to Cameroon.

Reports from Brazil are now claiming the 25-year-old – who has been crucial to Arsenal's form this season – could miss up to three months.

There have also been rumours that Jesus initially suffered a problem before playing in the Cameroon game, but Tite strongly denied these claims in a venomous rebuttal in his press conference ahead of Monday's last-16 tie with South Korea.

"I don't like hearing lies, evil lies, those [come from] the people who want to do bad things for others," Tite said.

"At no time whatsoever do we play for victory at the risk of peril for a player, so the liars that are out there, the haters, who keep giving hate, go and do something else and stop giving fake news.

" Arsenal have a great medical department, we have a great medical department. We are responsible, ethical.

"It's a shame, very sorry for Gabriel. [On Saturday] we had Neymar, Thiago [Silva] and Marquinhos chatting with him and then Telles.

"We then added [assistant coach] Cesar [Sampaio] who has also had this experience. It was not to take the pain away but just to make them feel better, strengthen them and for them to be able to participate as much as possible."

Sampaio, who featured at the 1998 World Cup for Brazil, added: "At no moment were we made aware of an injury. We will never put health at risk for a result.

"Injury is difficult in an athlete's career, regardless of when it happens. We feel fragile when we cannot do what we love, especially at a World Cup.

"We spent time to give them support, we do not know what we have ahead of us but regardless of not being with us physically, they are with this team."

On the positive side for Brazil, Neymar will be fit to feature against South Korea should he come through Sunday's training session without any issues, while Danilo is also available.

Neymar has returned to training ahead of Brazil's World Cup last-16 tie with South Korea and will feature if he gets the green light from the team's medical department.

Brazil's talisman has not featured in Qatar since the Selecao's opening Group G game - a 2-0 win over Serbia.

Neymar went off in that match having sustained an ankle injury and was unavailable for the rest of the group stage.

The 30-year-old posted images from his return to training on social media on Saturday, along with the caption "I feel good, I knew that I would now", and it was confirmed in Brazil's pre-match press conference that Neymar will be available as long as he comes through a session unscathed on Sunday.

"Neymar's going to practice today," Brazil coach Tite said.

"If he practices okay then he will be playing. There's a specific training today. He will practice and if everything is okay, he will play."

Tite insisted, however, the final call will be with Brazil's medical experts.

"We play a price to be the best, we want to be at our most competent but we never put health at risk," Tite added when asked if Neymar would start if he came through the training session without any issues.

"Neymar being in the line-up depends on the medical department clearing it.

"I prefer to use my best from the start. Myself, as a head coach I have to take that responsibility, and that is my preference."

Tite also confirmed Danilo is available for selection, though Alex Sandro is not. Gabriel Jesus and Alex Telles, meanwhile, have been ruled out of the remainder of the tournament.

Tite warned Brazil must be "very careful" in the knockout stage of the World Cup, when they will hope to have Neymar back from injury.

The Selecao lost 1-0 to Cameroon on Friday but still topped Group G, meaning they will face South Korea in the second round, rather than Portugal.

Spain's defeat the previous day appeared to open up the draw further for Brazil, who would now play the winner of Japan's clash with Croatia in the quarter-finals.

Regardless of their opponents, Brazil will feel more comfortable once Neymar is back in action, but he has not yet trained with a ball following his matchday one injury.

Team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar added: "With 72 hours before the next match, we have time on our side. We still have possibilities."

With or without his star man, coach Tite certainly will not become complacent, explaining: "Brazil lost to Cameroon. Portugal lost to South Korea. France lost to Tunisia. Argentina lost to Saudi Arabia. I think the results speak for themselves.

"I think these are very strong, very tough matches. I don't think we can think any prior situation makes it easy. We need to be very careful.

"We were very careful with the match against Cameroon. We were. We had all of those cares, we took them. They had their merits, played vertically very well. They have merit for the victory like Tunisia and the others.

"We can't say it's easier and we have an advantage. We can't say that."

Tite had made nine changes to his Brazil team, selecting an entirely different XI to that which started their finals opener.

But he said: "Who lost? All of us. Our preparation is joint preparation, our wins are joint wins, our losses are also joint losses."

The coach called on Brazil to "feel the loss", saying: "The World Cup doesn't give you a second chance, but this time it did.

"We have to concentrate for 24 hours, suffer for 24 hours, and tomorrow we start getting ready."

Besides Neymar's progress, there was mixed news on the injury front, with Alex Sandro still recovering alongside the forward but Danilo set to train normally on Saturday.

That is a timely boost as Alex Telles and Gabriel Jesus are set for scans on knee injuries sustained against Cameroon.

Vincent Aboubakar fired Cameroon to a last-gasp 1-0 win over Brazil before being sent off on Friday, but it was not enough to save the Indomitable Lions from an early World Cup exit – or to prevent the Selecao from topping Group G.

Having seen Brazil secure a place in the round of 16 by beating Switzerland last time out, Tite made nine changes to his side, which resulted in a disjointed Selecao showing at the Lusail Stadium.

Devis Epassy kept Cameroon in the contest with several fine saves before Aboubakar nodded home a stoppage-time winner for Rigobert Song's men – and was promptly shown a second yellow card for removing his shirt.

However, the result was ultimately immaterial as Switzerland clung on to beat Serbia 3-2 in the group's other game, ensuring Brazil topped the pool and sealing Cameroon's elimination. 

Brazil defender Dani Alves has no doubt over what he can offer to Tite's World Cup squad, despite being 39.

Former Barcelona and Juventus full-back Alves made the 26-man selection for Qatar, but is yet to feature at the tournament.

That seems set to change on Friday, with Tite set to ring the changes for Brazil's final Group G match against Cameroon, given the Selecao's place in the last 16 is already assured.

While acknowledging he is no longer at his peak, Alves – who made his Brazil debut in 2006 – is sure on just what he can bring to the team.

"[I'm] very proud to be able to be here," he said at a press conference.

"I have been doing so for many years with the squad, so to be able to wrap up this cycle by playing in the World Cup makes me very happy.

"When you work hard, dedicate yourself and go after what you want, you'll go places you would never have thought of. That's what life is giving me.

"All my 16 years on the squad, I have done my best for the team. Life always rewards the people who love what they do and do their very best on the mission.

"I am reaping what I have planted over those 16 years. It's normal that people question this because of my age or because I am not at my best, but at the World Cup it's not about being your best for a club, but having your best moment at the tournament.

"In the two matches that I wasn't present, our team needed a better defender in my position, I'm good as an attacker – that's a plan that we have established here, to know how the team plays and what will be demanded of a player.

"I am here to serve the team. If I have to play the drum, I will be the best drummer out there. 

"I know what I can do for the team and know there are other players at a better moment than I for what is requested. I know I can deliver, know what I can deliver.

"Trust is something you don't ask for, it's something you obtain. I have obtained the trust."

Tite believes Alves sets the prime example to the younger players in his squad.

"We represent people with a lot of love, a lot of pride, passion and dedication," Tite said.

"Dani is an example of that. He does everything with high quality. I greatly respect those who have got to where he has. He is much more than football, much more than a player on the pitch."

Two of the younger players Tite will be hoping are looking to emulate Alves are wingers Gabriel Martinelli and Antony, with both options to start against Cameroon.

Both players were featuring in Sao Paulo Youth Cup only three years ago, and Alves believes their success is proof hard work pays off.

"A few years ago they were playing a minor tournament and now they're at the World Cup," Alves said. "It shows their dedication, and shows how we need to mature quickly. They deserve to be here, that's their reward.

"We win when everybody plays at the same level, on and off the field. I think this is the most balanced team we have ever had."

Brazil will be without the injured Neymar and Danilo against Cameroon, though both have progressed to working in the swimming pool.

Should the Selecao win Group G, they will play against the runners-up of Group H on Monday in the last 16.

Pele is in the thoughts of Brazil's World Cup stars as he undergoes treatment in hospital, head coach Tite said on Thursday.

Three-time World Cup winner Pele, regarded among the greatest players of all time, is receiving medical care at home in Brazil.

The 82-year-old underwent surgery to remove a tumour from his colon last year, and has been in and out of hospital since.

His daughter, Kely Nascimento, has said there is "no surprise or emergency" over her father's hospitalisation after he was admitted this week.

Particularly coming at a time when a World Cup is taking place and he is not present, the news of Pele needing hospital attention has caused concern for many.

Tite read out a statement before taking questions at Brazil's press conference, saying: "We all wish a lot of health to Pele.

"We found out the news from the press. He’s the biggest representative of the national team and we wish him much health. That is the feeling of all the squad, we wish Pele the very best."

Pele's daughter said in her statement on Wednesday that "the media is freaking out again", adding that she planned to visit her father in the new year, with her brothers visiting at present.

 

As Brazil got their tournament under way last week, Pele sent the squad a message of good luck. He was a World Cup winner in 1958, 1962 and 1970.

He wrote on Instagram: "Today we start writing a new story. No matter the size and tradition of the opponents: we must respect and play each match with the focus of a final.

"It is important to play beautifully, yes, but it is also essential to leave everything on the pitch.

"Today, we will be more than 200 million hearts beating as one, vibrating with each achievement of our Selecao.

"I am sending all positive energies to you. I'm sure we'll have a happy ending. God bless you. Bring this trophy home!"

Brazil have begun their campaign with a 2-0 win over Serbia and a 1-0 success against Switzerland, rounding off their Group G campaign against Cameroon on Friday.

Casemiro believes Brazil are in a much stronger position at the Qatar World Cup than they were in Russia in 2018.

Manchester United midfielder Casemiro lashed home an 83rd-minute winner against Switzerland on Monday, ensuring Brazil's progress from Group G.

Up to that point at Stadium 974, Brazil – shorn of the injured Neymar – had been frustrated in their attempts to break the deadlock, and looked set to be heading for a third World Cup draw against the Swiss, who they had not previously beaten in the competition.

Brazil are the first side in World Cup history to go unbeaten in 17 consecutive group stage matches (including final and second group rounds in earlier editions), though it is the first time since 2010 that the Selecao have won their opening two matches at the tournament. 

Having reached the quarter-finals in Russia before going out to Belgium, Brazil are the favourites to triumph in Qatar, and Casemiro has no doubt the squad is stronger than it was at the last World Cup.

"Four years have gone by, there are new players, this year we have a wider range of options, we have more to choose from, without even changing the team we can change the way we play," Casemiro said in a post-match press conference.

"If we substitute players we have even more options. There's no doubt the options are much greater than those in 2018. Not only because time has gone on and we are mature.

"We have defenders who are more experienced, we've had another match without conceding. It's not Alisson, it's not the defence, it starts up front with Richarlison.

"The range of options is much greater than at the last World Cup."

Casemiro's sentiment was echoed by coach Tite, who claimed the real victor of Brazil's success on Monday was the "process" of developing a younger squad.

"There's a wide range of options because there's a four-year period of developing this," Tite said.

"What won today was this four years, and them being able to develop in a natural way, despite being young.

"If that weren't the case, it would be very difficult. Who won today? This process, this development. That was the cherry on the cake."

Brazil need just a point from their final Group G game against Cameroon to seal top spot, and a match against the runners-up of Group H, which includes Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea, in the last 16.

It is unclear if Neymar, who sustained an ankle injury in last week's win over Serbia, will be fit to feature against Cameroon, but Tite was buoyed that Brazil got the job done without their talisman.

Asked if Brazil missed Neymar's influence, Tite said: "Obviously, Neymar has different skills, he is a player who can make a magical moment.

"Other players are still getting to that level, and I hope they get there. So yes, we do miss Neymar, he has a great creative power, so we miss him, but we see that there are players that can take the opportunity. Let's enjoy this win."

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