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Friday March 7, 2014 MYT 12:08:20 AM
Friday March 7, 2014 MYT 12:09:17 AM
by andrew downie
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil's centre-forwards again failed to score against South Africa on Wednesday but it turned out to be nothing more than a minor inconvenience thanks to another inspirational performance by Neymar.
The Barcelona forward's second international hat-trick took his Brazil total to 30 goals in 47 matches, nine more than Fred and Jo, who took it in turns to play in the striker's role against South Africa, have managed between them.
Fred, the first choice number nine, started the 5-0 win in Johannesburg and was largely anonymous for the first hour while Jo made little impact after replacing him.
Fluminense striker Fred has been out injured for much of the last eight months and has not scored for Brazil since his double in the 3-0 win over Spain in the Confederations Cup final last June.
Jo's last international goal was six games ago in a 3-1 friendly win over Portugal.
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, however, always likes to have a target man and must decide whether to stick by Fred and Jo who played well in the Confederations Cup but have been unimpressive since.
Fred was unperturbed by his drought.
"It was good to experience the national team atmosphere again," he said. "At halftime, we decided we would make more use of Neymar as he was free and enjoying himself.
"It's a shame I didn't score myself but at least I set up a goal for Neymar."
In fact, as long as Neymar keeps knocking in the goals, it is unlikely to matter.
"When Neymar is happy, he produces a lot more and, when he is with us, he feels at home, and can produce what he is really capable of," said the man known as Felipao (Big Phil).
Fernandinho, another scorer on Wednesday, may well have cemented his place, perhaps at the expense of injured Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva or Inter Milan's Hernanes.
The remaining doubts in the squad appear to be over who will be selected as second-choice right back, the back-up centre halves and third-choice goalkeeper.
At full back, the experienced Maicon looks likely to get the nod ahead of Bayern Munich's Rafinha who was given his second cap against South Africa.
Several players are competing to provide cover for David Luiz and Thiago Silva at centre back, with Dante seemingly certain to go and Marquinhos, Dede, and Rever among candidates to join him.
Julio Cesar and Jefferson look to have taken two of the goalkeeping positions while Victor, impressive in helping Atletico Mineiro win the Libertadores Cup last year, and Fluminense's Diego Cavalieri are competing for the other spot.
Scolari denied that the 23 names have already been chosen and warned there could be injuries or the late appearance of a "new phenomenon."
(Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond)
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