ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) - Costa Rica coach Oscar Ramirez could task two of his players with man-marking Brazil playmaker Neymar when the teams clash in St Petersburg on Friday, but said his side would not try to foul the forward out of the game.
Costa Rica go into the match bottom of Group E after losing their first game 1-0 against Serbia, while Brazil drew 1-1 with Switzerland in their opening match.
Neymar was sidelined for three months after sustaining a fractured right foot and sprained ankle in a French league match in late February and was fouled 10 times in the opener against Switzerland.
The 26-year-old’s last World Cup ended prematurely after he took a knee in the back and fractured a vertebra in the quarter-final with Colombia at the tournament in Brazil.
“Neymar is a very skilled player and it’s true that people have tried to stop him a little aggressively,” Ramirez told reporters on the eve of the match. “We have our own strategy and we will see what happens.
“Maybe we will cover him by two men. But of course we don’t want to see any sort of offences against him or any unfair attacks against him. The players know what to do.”
The 53-year-old announced his starting lineup at his pre-match news conference, revealing he would make one change to the side that were beaten by Serbia, with Bryan Oviedo coming in at left back in place of Francisco Calvo.
Ramirez also called for Costa Rica’s fans to keep faith with the team, saying that reaching the quarter-finals in Brazil four years ago had raised expectations to such an extent that pressure was being piled on his players.
“We know our country very well and people in our country don’t like losing,” he added. “Whenever we defend our colors and our shirt we want to win. Sometimes we are a little self-destructive I fear.”
Reports have emerged of splits in the dressing room and a falling out between players but Ramirez said his team were all pulling in the same direction.
“Certain information has been published and supposedly they come from inside the team, but I wouldn’t say so,” he added.
“It’s true that some players are closer to some others, but they are not different groups, there are no problems within the team. I haven’t had to intervene at all, there were no clashes.”
Skipper Bryan Ruiz said Costa Rica were motivated at the thought of facing five-time world champions Brazil and were mentally prepared for the task ahead.
“It’s very motivating to be able to play against Brazil during a World Cup,” he added. “Both teams are fighting to qualify for the next stage so I’m sure it’s going to be a very intense game.
“We have prepared very well physically and tactically, so we will have to use that in tomorrow’s game, as well as our psychological strength.”
Reporting by Simon Jennings in St Petersburg; Editing by Ian Chadband