Vinicius feared ‘dirty’ challenges would end his World Cup dream

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Brazil have been touted as favourites to win the World Cup in Qatar, with Vinicius Junior likely to play a key role in Tite’s attack.

Vinicius Junior feared he would miss Brazil’s World Cup campaign through injury after being targeted by “dirty” challenges in the build-up to the tournament.

The Real Madrid winger has contributed to nine goals in LaLiga this season (six goals, three assists) – a tally only surpassed by Robert Lewandowski (17) and Borja Iglesias (10).

Vinicius also won 16 senior caps for Brazil after making his international debut in 2019 and became a key part of Tite’s squad ahead of the Qatar tournament.

As the World Cup’s mid-season scheduling came under fire after several big-name players including Sadio Mane and Paul Pogba were sidelined with injuries, Vinicius says both he and team-mate Rodrygo have been the target of nasty challenges from opponents.

“What happens on the pitch stays on the pitch but it went too far,” Vinicius told Reuters.

“You can be strong but they were dirty with their challenges. Rodrygo and I suffered a lot in those last games and we feared the worst that we would get injured and lose the World Cup.”

“When you become an important player, opponents come after you harder. You have to learn to deal with that.

“I learned a lot from Neymar when he played for Barcelona, ​​he also suffered a lot. Cristiano [Ronaldo] when he played for Real also suffered a lot.

“But it was Karim [Benzema] who told me to keep calm and be calm because if your opponents are chasing you, it’s because you’re relevant, because they fear you.

“So that’s why when I take the ball and go forward, I do it with a vengeance. Yes, I can get hurt. But I’m up for the challenge.”

Brazil will begin their quest for a sixth World Cup when they take on Serbia on Thursday as they look to defend their excellent group stage record in recent years of the tournament.

The Selecao are unbeaten in their last 15 World Cup group matches, winning 12 (D3), with their last such defeat coming against Norway in 1998.

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