Seven weeks will define this stage of Neymar’s career.
That’s how much time the Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil superstar will have to recover his best form between his estimated return date from injury and the 2018 FIFA World Cup final. The soccer world will watch intently, as Neymar seeks to recover from surgery to repair a broken foot in time to fire Brazil to its sixth world championship.
The injury Neymar suffered Sunday in PSG’s win over Olympique Marseille appears at first glance to be the second consecutive cruel twist of World Cup fate he has endured in his career. The best soccer players usually can expect to play in three or four World Cups, and Neymar’s wretched injury luck seems to have robbed him of two chances of winning the sport’s biggest prize, with the first coming in 2014 when a back injury ended his tournament in the quarterfinals.
But that’s only at first glance.
Neymar will undergo surgery to repair a cracked fifth metatarsal in his right foot Saturday in Brazil. His recovery timetable, which PSG’s doctors estimate at six to eight weeks and Brazil’s doctors put between 10 to 12, suggests he’ll be able to return to full sometime between April 28 and May 26.
His absence will be PSG’s loss, as the injury rules him out of the March 6 UEFA Champions League round-of-16 game against Real Madrid, the quarterfinals and most likely the first leg of the semifinal, should his team advance that far. Although he’ll likely return in time for PSG’s penultimate or last Ligue 1 (French league) game as well as the Coupe de France (French Cup) final in late May, Champions League success represents his team’s truest measure of success following his record-setting transfer from Barcelona.
Some Brazilian pundits regard last Sunday as “the day Brazil lost the World Cup.” While Neymar’s injury won’t confirm the dramatic prediction, his lengthy absence will dent Brazil’s hopes of winning the tournament but not sink them altogether.
Neymar won’t be in peak form when Brazil kicks off its World Cup on June 17 against Sweden due to the fact he won’t have played more than a few games for club and country since the injury. This means he’s not racing against time but against conventional soccer wisdom, which states players need a run of around seven to 10 games to reach maximum sharpness.
Neymar could feature in PSG’s last two to four outings, followed by a Brazil’s weeks’-long training camp, which will include at least two pre-tournament exhibition games. Brazil then will play three group-stage games. When the soccer superpower reaches the knockout phase, Neymar might be approaching his best form as his country navigates the round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals and final.
And make no mistake: Brazil won’t win the World Cup without Neymar, 26, at his best. He won’t be at that level when the World Cup begins but he has a good chance of reaching it by July 15, the day of the final.
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