Neymar returns as Brazil launch World Cup qualifying campaign

Brazil's NeymarReuters

Brazil coach Fernando Diniz called up Neymar and Vinicius Junior Friday for the opening matches of the Selecao’s 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign, but left out Lucas Paqueta, who faces a sports-betting investigation in Britain.

Still smarting from their elimination by Croatia in the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup, five-time champions Brazil will launch their qualifying campaign against Bolivia on 8 September in Belem, in northern Brazil, then play Peru on 12 September in Lima.

It is the first squad announcement for 49-year-old Brazilian Diniz, who took over from Tite in the wake of the Selecao’s disappointing run in Qatar.

Brazil's head coach Fernando Diniz attends a press conference to announce the players list for the South American qualification matches for the FIFA World Cup 2026 against Bolivia and Peru in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 18 August 2023

There had been doubts whether star striker Neymar, 31, would continue with the national team, frustrated over last year’s heartbreak and occupied with his newly announced move from Paris Saint-Germain to Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal.

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But “I spoke with him recently, and he was very willing and happy for the opportunity,” Diniz told a news conference in Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s hard to find a player equal to him. He’s a very rare talent.”

However, Diniz said he had left Paqueta off his 23-player list after news reports that the West Ham midfielder, who is reportedly negotiating a move to Manchester City, is under investigation by the English Football Association for possible violations of sports-betting regulations.

“It’s not about prejudging him, on the contrary: it’s about protecting him, allowing Paqueta to resolve the matter,” he said.

“The doors of the ‘Selecao’ will be open for him as soon as he can favorably resolve the situation.”

Diniz, who also coaches Rio de Janeiro side Fluminense, will do both jobs until Italy’s Carlo Ancelotti finishes his contract with Real Madrid in June 2024 and takes the reins of the Selecao, according to Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) chief Ednaldo Rodrigues.

Brazil squad

Goalkeepers: Alisson (Liverpool, ENG), Bento (Athletico Paranaense), Ederson (Manchester City, ENG)

Defenders: Danilo (Juventus, ITA), Vanderson (Monaco, FRA), Caio Henrique (Monaco, FRA), Renan Lodi (Marseille, FRA), Gabriel Magalhaes (Arsenal, ENG), Ibanez (Al-Ahli, KSA), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain, FRA), Nino (Fluminense)

Midfielders: Andre (Fluminense), Bruno Guimaraes (Newcastle, ENG), Casimiro (Manchester United, ENG), Joelinton (Newcastle, ENG), Raphael Veiga (Palmeiras)

Forwards: Antony (Manchester United, ENG), Gabriel Martinelli (Arsenal, ENG), Matheus Cunha (Wolverhampton, ENG), Neymar (Al-Hilal, KSA), Richarlison (Tottenham, ENG), Rodrygo (Real Madrid, ESP), Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid, ESP)