BRASILIA – Brazil's Copa America preparations suffered a huge injury scare on Wednesday after striker Neymar limped off the field as the Selecao beat Qatar 2-0 in a friendly.
A distraught-looking Neymar was seen covering his face with his hands as he sat on the bench after hobbling from the field in the 20th minute at Brasilia's Mane Garrincha Stadium.
A large icepack had been strapped to the Paris Saint-Germain striker's lower right leg while two members of Brazil's support staff carried him from the pitch.
The injury comes just nine days away from Brazil's opening game in the 2019 Copa America, which the South American powerhouses are hosting.
Minutes after Richarlison had just opened the scoring in the 17th minute Neymar departed with pain in his right ankle.
Gabriel Jesus added a second goal in the 23rd, but all the attention was focused on the injury to Neymar, which the Brazilian Football Confederation described as a sprain.
Any serious injury to Neymar would be a massive blow to the host nation's hopes as they attempt to win South America's continental championship for the first time since 2007.
The injury was just the latest twist in the soap opera surrounding Neymar, who has dominated headlines in Brazil since Saturday after a woman accused him of raping her in a Paris hotel. Neymar has strongly denied the allegations.
Earlier on Wednesday, the head of Brazil's football federation insisted Neymar would play in the Copa America despite the allegations of rape, a day after a senior official said he was willing to “bet” the star striker would quit.
Despite police investigations into the alleged rape and the publication of intimate images on social media, Neymar has continued to train with his Brazilian team-mates for the Copa America, which kicks off June 14.
Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Rogerio Caboclo told reporters Wednesday that the world's most expensive player would take part in the tournament - the second time in as many days he has made such an assurance.
His remarks came after CBF vice president Francisco Noveletto was quoted by Brazilian media Tuesday as saying he was willing to “bet” that Neymar would quit.
“He doesn't have the psychological condition to face the Copa America and journalists,” Noveletto said.
Caboclo responded by saying Noveletto did not speak “for the CBF,” Globoesporte.com said.
Hours ahead of Brazil's friendly against Qatar in Brasilia Wednesday, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro offered his public backing for the embattled player.
“He's going through a difficult moment but I believe him,” said Bolsonaro.
At a news conference Monday, national coach Tite was bombarded with questions about the affair and its effect on the squad.
Attempting to sidestep the issue, Tite said he would “not judge” Neymar, who he said was “indispensable” to the team, but not “irreplaceable” either.
The scandal caps a troubled season for the player, on and off the field. It has been marred by a recurring injury, two separate suspensions for insulting a referee and hitting a fan, and the loss of Brazil's captaincy.