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Neymar scores again as Brazil wins last World Cup tune-up

The Associated Press

Brazil’s Neymar celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal during a friendly match against Austria in Vienna on Sunday.

The Associated Press VIENNA (AP) — Neymar scored his second goal in two matches since returning from injury on Sunday, netting with a superb second-half strike as Brazil defeated Austria 3-0 in its final warmup game ahead of the World Cup.

Set up by Willian in the 63rd minute, Neymar wrong-footed Austria defender Aleksandar Dragovic with a quick move and converted through the legs of goalkeeper Heinz Lindner for Brazil’s second goal.

Neymar celebrated by pulling his shirt back over his head and making the “V’’ sign with both hands.

Gabriel Jesus gave Brazil the lead after 36 minutes with a slick finish from a tight angle. He was unmarked on the left side of the area when Marcelo’s deflected shot came his way and he curled the ball past Lindner before it hit the far post and went in. Philippe Coutinho added a third after being sent deep by Roberto Firmino 20 minutes from the end.

A week before Brazil’s World Cup opener against Switzerland, Neymar started for the first time since recovering from fracturing his right foot, which kept him out for three months. He stayed on for almost the entire game, being replaced in the 84th by Douglas Costa.

“I don’t know the limit of Neymar,” Brazil coach Tite said through an interpreter when asked if his main striker was back at full strength. “’If [Austria] opens up in defense, go for it,’ I told him at the break. In the end I thought it might be getting too much for him so I took him off.”

A week ago, Neymar came on for the second half against Croatia in Liverpool and had an immediate impact as he opened the scoring after dribbling past two opponents to help Brazil win 2-0.

Against Austria, he had no attempt on goal in the opening hour but went down three times following rough challenges by the home side.

The first scare came in the third minute following a late tackle from behind by midfielder Alessandro Schoepf. Similar fouls were committed by Florian Grillitsch in the 35th and Sebatian Proedl in the 53rd.

Each time, Neymar remained sitting on the pitch and holding his left ankle with a pained face, though he eventually got up and didn’t looked hampered during play.

And Neymar blossomed in the final half-hour — when Austria’s tight defense opened up — showing off his individual skills and crowning his performance with a fine finish that further cracked Austria’s resistance.

Costa’s return was also good news for Tite. The winger only started training with the squad last week after picking up a thigh injury during Juventus’ 2-1 win against Verona in the last round of the Serie A season.

Costa is expected to be a backup for Neymar during the World Cup.

Cup expansion left off agenda

MOSCOW (AP) — The prospect of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar growing to 48 teams faded Sunday after a discussion of the thorny issue was pulled from the agenda for FIFA’s annual congress.

Plans for a feasibility study were put on hold after Qatar World Cup head Hassan Al-Thawadi addressed the ruling council of world football’s governing body and FIFA President Gianni Infantino said agreement from the Gulf nation is a “precondition.”

Having previously said he was keen on an adding 16 teams, Infantino is now casting doubt on the possibility of further disrupting preparations for the Qatar tournament.

The FIFA Congress, which features up to 211 football federations, will now have no say in the number of teams at the tournament in Qatar. Infantino said there would be no change in the number of finalists once qualifying begins, which is likely in early 2019.

Qatar is building eight stadiums to host the Middle East’s first World Cup and 12-14 venues would be required to accommodate 48 teams.

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