Vinicius feared 'dirty' challenges would end his World Cup dream

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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 bettered by Robert Lewandowski (17) and Borja Iglesias (10).

Vinicius has also won 16 senior caps for Brazil after making his international debut in 2019, emerging as a key part of Tite's team ahead of the tournament in Qatar.

With the mid-season scheduling of the World Cup being criticised after several big-name players including Sadio Mane and Paul Pogba were ruled out through injury, Vinicius says both he and team-mate Rodrygo were targeted with unsavoury challenges by opponents.

"What happens on the field stays on the field, but it went too far," Vinicius told Reuters.

"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 it with a vengeance. Yes, I can get hurt. But I'm prepared for the challenge."

Brazil get their quest for a sixth World Cup under way when they face Serbia on Thursday, looking to defend a fine group-stage record at recent editions of the tournament.

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