Brazil and Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior said he feared he would get injured before the World Cup due to “dirty” tackles from opponents in LaLiga.
The 22-year-old is the most-fouled player in LaLiga by a large margin, 10 more times than Getafe’s Enes Unal in second on the list, and believes his rivals went after him due to his status.
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“What happens of the field stays on the field, but it went too far,” Vinicius told Reuters on Thursday.
“You can come strong but they were being dirty with their challenges. Rodrygo and I suffered a lot in those last games and feared the worst, to get injured and miss the World Cup.
“When you start to become an important player, rivals come after you harder. You have to learn to deal with that.
“I learned a lot from Neymar when he played for Barcelona, he suffered a lot too. Cristiano [Ronaldo], when he played for Real, suffered a lot too.
“But it was Karim [Benzema] who told me to stay calm and have peace of mind because if the rivals are chasing you it is because you are relevant, because they are afraid of you.
“So that’s why when I take the ball and burst forward I do with a vengeance. Yes, I can get hurt. But I’m prepared for the challenge.”
That is a mentality Vinicius believes he shares with his Brazilian teammates heading to Qatar.
“The rivals can expect a team that is strong and prepared to give it all to win it all,” he said.
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Vinicius scored Real Madrid’s winner in the Champions League final against Liverpool and finished eighth in the Ballon D’Or ballot last month, elevating him to world-class level in his fifth season with the Spanish giants.
He said he was eager to ease the pressure on Neymar, 30, who has carried the hopes of a nation almost single-handedly throughout his international career as Brazil chase a first World Cup title since 2002.
“Neymar went through so much as a young player, having to play at such young age and with a lot of pressure. So he is the one that makes sure today that everything is easier for the new generation,” Vinicius said.
“It is a dream because we grew up idolising him. It is very important what he does as a leader. He knows that by helping us, we can help him a lot too, make a great World Cup.
“And that’s good for us. It is good for the Brazilian people that want us to win.”