Here’s an update on what over the past week has arguably been the world’s most watched ankle. On Sunday, Neymar’s right ankle and the rest of his body were on the practice field with the rest of the Brazilian national football team in Doha, Qatar. This was good news for fans of Brazil. It would have been very disturbing had his ankle been there but not the rest of the star forward’s body. Plus, Neymar’s entire body practicing was a good sign that his right ankle has recovered enough for him to be available for Monday’s round of 16 match against South Korea at the 2022 World Cup.
As I reported for Forbes on November 25, Neymar’s right ankle drew worldwide attention after a knee from a Serbian player caused his right foot to flip inwards or invert. This resulted in a sprain of the lateral ligament in his right ankle during the team’s opening group match win against Serbia. A sprain is essentially a tear of a ligament. Ligaments are the fibrous tissues that help connect one bone to another. If someone were to ask you, “Could I borrow all of the ligaments from your body,” you should say, “No,” and step away quickly. That’s because without any ligaments in your body your bones would not remain as closely connected with each other, which would not be a good thing, especially if you wanted to play soccer or shuffle dance.
Shortly after the Serbia match, it was unclear how severe Neymar’s injury was. Based on the swelling clearly present immediately after he had left the field, it looked worse than a Grade 1 sprain. A Grade 3 sprain (which would be a complete tear) or a more severe Grade 2 sprain (which would be a major partial tear) would have meant that Neymar would have been done for the remainder of the World Cup. Neymar did end up missing the remaining two games of the Group Stage. And in both games against Switzerland and then Cameroon, Brazil looked significantly less effective without Neymar, sort of like how the movie sequel Speed 2: Cruise Control looked without Keanu Reeves, the star of the original movie Speed. With Neymar now being back on the practice field, it looks like he probably had a Grade 2 sprain that wasn’t super severe.
In a news conference on Sunday, Brazil’s manager Tite did say the following about Neymar, “He will practice this afternoon, and if everything is okay, he will play.” He added, “Neymar being on the lineup depends on the medical department clearing that.
Neymar’s return would be good news for the Selecao, which is the nickname for Brazil’s national football. Typically, you want your star player to be available for a World Cup match, especially when your team reaches the knockout stage. The knockout stage doesn’t mean that only really hot people are allowed to play. Instead, it means that you have to win each match to keep advancing and playing. A loss means that you are knocked out of the tournament and have to effectively go home.
Monday’s matchup is intriguing. It pits what many consider the most successful national program in World Cup history against a national program that has made great strides in the 200o’s. Brazil has won the World Cup five times and were pre-tournament favorites to hoist the trophy for a record sixth time, because, you know, five plus one would be six. By contrast, South Korea hadn’t even qualified for the knockout stage until the 2002 World Cup that was held in Japan and Korea. During that World Cup, South Korea finished in what at the time was a surprising fourth place.
Since then, South Korea has grown significantly in terms of power and consistency. This year’s team, led by Captain Son Heung Min, is a formidable foe, having finished second in Group H, after beating Portugal 2-1 in their third and final match of the Group stage. They completed their Group Stage with one win, one tie, and one loss at the Group stage, while Brazil won two of their matches before losing to Cameroon.
Of course, just because Neymar may be back doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll be at full strength. Football, or soccer as it is known in the U.S., requires a lot of pivoting and turning, which can put a tremendous amount of pressure on your ankles. You have to have a fair amount of flexibility in your ankles too, which is yet another reason why you typically do not wear Ugg boots while playing football. The other reason is that they are Ugg boots. It will be interesting to see how Neymar ends up moving on the field. Regardless, his presence on the field alone should change the dynamics of the game.
Two injured ankles may be back for the Monday showdown in Qatar. The other ankle belongs to Danilo, the right back for Brazil who injured his left ankle against Serbia but looks to be right back, so to speak, as well. The Serbia match was a bad turn for both Neymar and Danilo. However, they hope that they can get past South Korea and eventually get their turn to hold up the 2022 World Cup championship trophy on December 18.