Favourites Brazil kick off World Cup bid as Ronaldo and Portugal enter fray

Neymar (2nd L) with his Brazil teammates at training in Doha on Wednesday

Neymar (2nd L) with his Brazil teammates at training in Doha on Wednesday. AFP/Nelson Almeida

DOHA - Favourites Brazil begin their bid to win a sixth World Cup on Thursday when they take on Serbia, while Cristiano Ronaldo will hope to put his acrimonious departure from Manchester United behind him as Portugal enter the fray against Ghana.

Brazil will be wary of a dangerous Serbian side when the teams meet at Lusail Stadium, especially after seeing Argentina suffer a shock defeat against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday at the same venue and Germany lose to Japan on Wednesday.

The Brazilians have arrived in Qatar hoping for a repeat of what happened at the last World Cup held in Asia two decades ago, when they won their fifth title in Japan.

"In my opinion, these players will help Neymar because they can divide up the responsibility and create space for him," said veteran Brazil skipper Thiago Silva.

"The atmosphere in the squad is super healthy. The mixture of young players and more experienced ones creates a great connection," he added.

However, Serbia appear a more dangerous proposition than four years ago, when they also faced Brazil in the group stage but lost 2-0 and went home in the first round.

"We are afraid of nobody in the world, not even Brazil," insisted Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic, who was hopeful that prolific Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic would be fit for the Group G opener.

- Portugal 'absolutely focused' -

Cristiano Ronaldo will play his first game for Portugal on Thursday following his departure from Manchester United

Cristiano Ronaldo will play his first game for Portugal on Thursday following his departure from Manchester United. AFP/Patricia De Melo Moreira

Portugal and Ghana are in Group H with Uruguay and South Korea, who meet in Thursday's other match.

Ronaldo's preparation for what is surely his last World Cup has been overshadowed by his bitter departure from Old Trafford.

It was announced late on Tuesday that the 37-year-old would leave United with "immediate effect" in the wake of an outspoken interview with a British broadcaster in which he said he felt "betrayed" by the club and had no respect for manager Erik ten Hag.

His club form this season has been poor but he is still hoping for a final shot at World Cup glory and Portugal will be expected to start with a victory at Stadium 974 by Doha's waterfront against a Ghana side who sit 61st in the FIFA rankings.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos claimed that Ronaldo's split from United had not been discussed by the players.

"The players are absolutely focused, with a great spirit, convinced about what they have to do, what their objectives are and realistic about the challenges they are facing," Santos said.

"Winning a competition of this magnitude is difficult."

Source
AFP

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