Swiss coach Vladimir Petkovic had said it the day before the match: “We will win our group,” implying that they would have ended Pool E ahead of Brazil. It’s too early to say whether his prophecy fulfills, but surely snatching one point out the game with the Selecao is a promising step in the right direction. Brazil on the other hand, had a staggering start, failing to win their third World Cup game in a row, which must be some sort of a negative record for them. The Brazilians are still with their head at home, four years ago, where their World Cup dreams turned into a German-speaking nightmare.
The help Brazil were expecting from their star Neymar – who missed the infamous conclusion of the home World Cup in 2014 due to an injury – didn’t come either, with the 200-million-euro man rather distinguishing himself for his new haircut, a spaghetti-like blonde foliage which should be enough to earn him a ban from any football pitch.
There was indeed much of Petkovic’s merit in the disappointing performance of Neymar, as the former Lazio coach placed on him two growling watchdogs the likes of Valon Behrami and Stephan Lichtsteiner. They both didn’t hesitate to get tough with O Ney when necessary, scoring a yellow card each, but indeed succeeding in keeping Paris Saint Germain’s jewel at bay.
For the rest, the Swiss were likely planning a defensive game, ready to parry back those Brazilian offensive waves that indeed never came. The first clear chance was for Paulinho after 11 minutes, but his close-range shot ended out of target. Philippe Coutinho had much more luck nine minutes later, scoring a goal that in normal circumstances would have given the match a clear direction – the one that leads to Brasilia. Barcelona talent’s feat – a left foot drive shot from outside the box, the consequence of a short clearance from the Swiss defense – is already a candidate for the best goal of this world tournament edition.
The reaction from the boys in red was not exactly a terrifying one. Roma’s goalkeeper Alisson Becker touched the ball for the first time in the 37th minute, and it was just to clear it with his feet. A whacky cross by defender Manuel Akanji showed how little offensive ideas the Swiss had, so it was Thiago Silva to go closer to score the second goal in the 42nd minute: His header from a corner kick ended above the crossbar by just a few inches.
Oh well. It’s just a matter of minutes, you would think. On the contrary, it was Switzerland to catch a suprising equaliser, just four minutes into the second half. Xherdan Shaqiri kicked a corner from the right side, and Steven Zuber – a little known midfielder playing in Germany with Hoffenheim – was smart enough to push his marker Miranda as much as he needed to be free of heading the ball past Alisson. Miranda and the whole of Brazil protested at referee Cesar Artur Ramos. But the truth is, Inter’s center back should know how to handle himself better in those borderline situations in the box.
Brazilian coach Tite attempted a transplant of creativity sending in Fernandinho, Renato Augusto, and eventually Roberto Firmino. Liverpool’s forward produced the clearest chance for the Auriverde, a shot from a free kick by Neymar, but Switzerland’s goalkeeper Yann Sommer answered his call. A few minutes earlier, O Ney had also tested Sommer’s reactivity, his header being an easy prey for the Swiss goalie.
Miranda tried to redeem himself in the last minute, with a shot that ended on the wrong side of the post, leaving both teams with one point, but his Brazil to face a true crisis of identity. Friday’s match against Costa Rica, which lost their opening match to Serbia, offers a prompt chance to turn the trend, but no more mistakes will be tolerated by local fans and media – which spent the day bashing their team, and even more Neymar’s ridiculous haircut.
June 17, 2018 – World Cup Group Stage Pool E
SCORERS: 20′ Coutinho (B), 50′ Zuber (S)
|BRAZIL (4-3-3): Alisson; Danilo, Miranda, Thiago Silva, Marcelo; Casemiro (60′ Fernandinho), Paulinho (67′ Renato Augusto), Coutinho; Willian, Gabriel Jesus (79′ Firmino), Neymar (Cassio, Ederson, Fagner, Geromel, Marquinhos, Felipe Luis, Douglas Costa, Taison) Coach: Tite|
|SWITZERLAND (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner (87′ Lang), Schaer, Akanji, Rodriguez; Behrami (71′ Zakaria), Xhaka; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Seferovic (80′ Embolo) (Mvogo, Burki, Moubandje, Elvedi, Djourou, Freuler, Gelson Fernandes, Gavranovic, Drmic) Coach: Petkovic|
REFEREE: Ramos (Mexico)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Casemiro (B), Lichtsteiner, Schaer, Behrami (S)