Brazil breathed a sigh of relief today when Philippe Coutinho finally managed to open a breach into the Costa Rican wall, which had held for 90 minutes. Neymar made it two for the Selecao during extra time, redeeming his team after a disappointing debut against Switzerland. But qualification is still all but granted for the Brazilians, and the final match in Group E with Serbia – in view of what happened tonight in Kaliningrad, where the Serbs lost to the Swiss – can still pose serious threats to them.
Coach Tite’s selection was still far from convincing today, and the 2-0 to Costa Rica matured only in the latest stages of a game which evidenced all of Brazil’s tension – well exemplified by Neymar’s stress-related tears at full time. The jewel of Paris Saint Germain fought, shot, scored a yellow card, and went for a dive in the box that managed to fool referee Björn Kuipers, but not the VAR. Then concluded his game with a skillful street football trick, before putting the ball past Keylor Navas to secure the three points.
Oh, and last but not least, he decided to get rid of his social-media bashed blonde locks – likely the most effective change in Brazil’s lineup versus the opening game with Switzerland.
Costa Rica moved from the possibility of holding the five-time World Champions onto a goalless draw, to a brusque elimination from the tournament, four years after their World Cup miracles right in Brazil. The Ticos did not necessarily deserve to be sent home after two games only, but – as for many other teams seen in Russia so far – if your only offensive strategy is having no strategy (seriously, a 5-4-1 module…), you are likely to get punished sooner or later.
Real Madrid’s goalie Navas saved what he could, but the dream vanished when Coutinho, once again, turned the light on for Brazil. However, had the Central Americans spent less time faking injuries in the last minutes, forcing Kuipers to allow 7 minutes of stoppage time, maybe the game would have ended before he could do so.
The Selecao built their hard-earned success on an overwhelming ball possession, yet their first clear scoring chance only came in 49th minute, with a header by Gabriel Jesus kissing the Costa Rican woodwork. With the ball bouncing back into the box, Coutinho went for the kill, but the Ticos somehow made out alive. Minutes later, it was Neymar, served from the right by Paulinho, to force Navas to answer with an amazing save.
Neymar had a further chance in 70th minute, but when Gabriel Jesus delivered him the ball in the box and Costa Rica’s Giancarlo Gonzales lightly touched him, he collapsed down, hoping to unwrap a penalty gift. Referee Kuipers initially bought it, then had the sense to check the VAR – which promptly unmasked O Ney’s theatrical dive.
One minute into extra time, Marcelo crossed from the left side, Roberto Firmino sent the ball in, and Gabriel Jesus went for it. But the fastest one was Philippe Coutinho, who even anticipated his teammate, to finally find a hole into the Central American barricade. With Costa Rica shocked and demotivated, Neymar took the luxury of showing his own, perfected version of Cuahutémoc Blanco’s cuauhtéminha – a spectacular rainbow flick to dribble defender Yeltsin Tejeda – before converting a pass by Douglas Costa to set the score to 2-0 in the 97th minute.
Coach Tite can sleep tight tonight. At least until the match with Serbia.
June 22, 2018 – World Cup Group Stage Pool E
BRAZIL-COSTA RICA 2-0
SCORERS: 90′ Coutinho, 97′ Neymar
|BRAZIL (4-1-4-1): Alisson; Fagner, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Marcelo; Casemiro; Willian (46′ Douglas Costa), Paulinho (68′ Firmino), Coutinho, Neymar; Gabriel Jesus (Cassio, Ederson, Pedro Geromel, Filipe Luis, Renato Augusto, Marquinos, Fernandinho, Fred, Taison) Coach: Tite|
|COSTA RICA (5-4-1): Keylor Navas; Gamboa (76′ Calvo), Acosta, Gonzalez, Duarte, Oviedo; Venegas, Borges, Guzman (83′ Tejeda), Ruiz; Urena (55′ Bolanos) (Pemberton, Moreira, Colindres, Campbell, Wallace, Azofeifa, Waston, Gutierrez) Coach: Ramirez|
REFEREE: Kuipers (Netherlands)
NOTES: Attendance: 64668; Yellow Cards: Neymar (B), Acosta (C); Extra Time: 1st Half 1′, 2nd Half 7′