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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

Brazil look to learn from lessons of 2014 by creating relaxed environment for Neymar and teammates

Tite has looked to encourage a more relaxed vibe as the South Americans prepare for Sunday's Group E opener against Switzerland

Neymar and his Brazil teammates have been treated to a more relaxed environment in Russia compared to four years ago. Bartlomiej Zborowski / EPA
Neymar and his Brazil teammates have been treated to a more relaxed environment in Russia compared to four years ago. Bartlomiej Zborowski / EPA

In a bid to rebuild belief in the Brazilian national team, coach Tite has borrowed a tactic that recently worked well for their modern nemeses.

At the 2014 World Cup, Germany were based in a luxurious camp in the northern state of Bahia, but were afforded the freedom to mix and mingle with the locals.

Such did the Germans ingratiate themselves that even after humiliating their hosts 7-1 in the semi-final, the likes of Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger were welcomed back to their base by Brazilians singing their names.

Now, in the southern Russian city of Sochi, Brazil are adopting a similar tact.

Staying at the five-star Swissotel Resort Kamelia, with its wide balconies and shared facilities, the players have been notably visible this week.

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As residents and tourists alike sip drinks on the ground level cafe, the Brazil players loom over them from the veranda above.

Neymar has been seen interacting with fans and taking selfies on the city’s promenade, while Tite’s backroom staff enjoy regular post-training trips to the beach.

It is a far cry from the pressurised environment of four years ago when family and friends were banished and the players later revealed they felt isolated and shut off.

Here they have the option; privacy is possible, but so too is the chance to interact, sample the culture, and get a sense of occasion.

Tite and team manager Edu Gaspar hope the more relaxed atmosphere will help the players perform free of nerves. Their country may not yet have forgotten what happened in Belo Horizonte against Germany, but there remains expectations to compete; expectations to bring home a record sixth title.

Back home, local cinemas are showing the games live with tickets selling for R$40 (Dh40).

"The national team has gone through many highs and lows since the 2014 World Cup,” said midfielder Willian.

“Today we are very mature and know what we have to do on the pitch. With the arrival of Tite, he brought various ideas and we bring these into the training and games. Brazil is living in a very good moment, matured a lot and are really ready to contest the World Cup.”

Having left their home comforts in Sochi on Saturday, a Seleção will get their campaign underway on Sunday in Rostov-on-Don against Switzerland, ranked sixth in the world after winning nine consecutive games.

The European side’s head coach, Vladimir Petkovic, unsurprisingly highlighted Neymar as the opposition danger man.

“Of course Neymar is an exceptional player," Petkovic said on Saturday. "It is difficult to hold him back throughout an entire match.

"Along with Cristiano Ronaldo, he is one of the strongest players in the world. We have to prepare mentally to play against such strong players.”

Brazil are undoubtedly a different beast to that of 2014 that had flattered to deceive on their way to the last four.

Tite has brought a tactical solidity to the side, while the emergence of striker Gabriel Jesus as well as Philippe Coutinho and the resurgence of Paulinho has taken some of the reliance off Neymar.

Yet there is no getting away from the 26-year-old’s importance to the side's hopes of success.

Having famously missed the 7-1 with a fractured vertebrae, Neymar has in 85 games scored 55 goals for his country, just seven less than Ronaldo who twice won the World Cup, in 1994 and 2002.

Now a television pundit and Fifa ambassador, the 41-year-old is certain it is only a matter of time before Neymar overtakes him.

“I hope that he passes me, and passes Pele too,” Ronaldo said, in reference to Brazil’s record goalscorer, who netted 77 times during his international career.

“Look what it would mean if he made this. I say it will happen. He has ambition, he always strives for goals. Soon he will pass me.”

If he does it this month, he will likely have plenty new friends in Sochi to celebrate with.