Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian superstar Neymar will be sidelined for up to three months -- perilously close to the eve of the World Cup -- after undergoing surgery on his broken foot, his doctor said Thursday.
The worse than previously announced prognosis came minutes after the Paris Saint-Germain striker, 26, arrived in Rio de Janeiro on an Air France flight from Paris for Saturday's operation.
"The (recovery) period will be around two and a half to three months," national team surgeon Rodrigo Lasmar, who flew with Neymar, said.
The injury has not only ruled the world's most expensive player out of PSG's make-or-break Champions League clash with Real Madrid on March 6, but more worryingly for the football-mad public in Brazil, also threatens the much-fancied national side's build-up to the World Cup, starting in Russia on June 14.
Lasmar, who will lead the surgery at a hospital in Belo Horizonte, underlined that there is no quick fix for the striker.
"It's not a simple fracture, but a fracture in an important bone in the middle of the foot," Lasmar said.
Dressed in a black hoodie, a black baseball cap and wearing sunglasses, Neymar left the plane in a wheelchair. He smiled and took selfies with other passengers, before leaving on a private jet to an undisclosed destination.
The initial assessment did not appear quite as serious on Sunday, when Neymar was reported to have suffered a hairline fracture of the fifth metatarsal, as well as a twisted ankle late in PSG's 3-0 win over Marseille in Ligue 1.
On Tuesday, the Brazilian's father Neymar Senior had claimed the player would be out for "at least six weeks".
PSG coach Unai Emery had said earlier that there remained a "small chance" of getting him back in time to face Real.
Lasmar's assessment painted a graver picture both in terms of the fracture and expectations for recovery.
"Yesterday we went back to the hospital (in Paris) and made new exams that left the seriousness of the fracture very clear," he told journalists in Rio.
"There was no doubt left regarding the treatment. We were unanimous in agreeing that it would have to be surgical treatment. More conservative treatment, without surgery, would present a far greater risk for refracture. We can't run that risk."
The drama is a big personal setback for Neymar who has been at the centre of the world's footballing attention since his 222 million-euro ($264 million) move from Barcelona last August.
He has scored 28 goals in 30 appearances in all competitions for PSG since arriving. But on Sunday he looked to be in tears as he was stretchered off the field at the Parc des Princes.
PSG lost 3-1 to Real in the first leg of their European tie in Spain two weeks ago and are in danger of being knocked out of the competition in the last 16 for the second season running.
Brazilians' attention is entirely trained on the World Cup, where they have ambitions of walking away with a sixth title after the humiliation of crashing out 7-1 to Germany in the 2014 semi-finals on home soil.
Even if Neymar gets back in time, he appears sure to miss two warm-up games against Russia and Germany in March.
"We just might have lost the World Cup last Sunday," one radio commentator, Milton Neves of Bandnews FM, said Wednesday.
Images of Sunday's fateful duel between Neymar and Marseille player Bouna Sarr have been replayed incessantly on television, often in slo-mo.
"I don't think we can really talk about fears of him not being at the World Cup. But there is a noticeable haste to find a solution so that Neymar will have recovered in time," an ESPN Brasil sports commentator, Mauro Cezar Pereira, told AFP.
Lasmar said he was aware of the pressure.
"It's clear there are goals to reach in terms of timing and we will do our best to meet the deadlines," he said.