No Neymar, no problem. Brazil have earned their place in the World Cup round-of-16… Just.
While the PSG man was resting at home with his right ankle cased in a compression boot, unlikely hero Casemiro stepped into the spotlight and fired home an excellent strike to send his country through to the next round.Embed from Getty Images
But, Brazil’s performance was far from convincing. In fact, Tite’s side looked flat throughout. Coming into the tournament, the Selecao were by far the favourites to lift the trophy. Fans across the globe had almost accepted the inevitability that it would return to South America for the first time in 20 years. That is because, on paper, Brazil arguably have the strongest squad out of all 32 teams. Not only do they have established names such as Neymar, Thiago Silva, Casemiro and Dani Alves in the 26-man line-up, they also have age on their side in the likes of Gabriel Martinelli, Vinicius Jr, Rodrygo and Antony – unlike Belgium, of whom Kevin De Bruyne claimed were far “too old” to be considered as contenders.
But, what has failed to click? Brazil should have theoretically stormed past both Serbia and Switzerland so far with the world-class squad they have, however, they struggled to get going on both occasions. It appears that Tite has finally run out of ideas, after all, this is his sixth year in charge, and the Selecao have little to show for it.
Before the game, many fans labelled the Brazil boss as “mad” and “crazy” for selecting defensive midfielder Fred to replace Neymar in the starting line-up. The Manchester United man put in a solid shift, but while Brazil were comfortable in possession throughout, they failed to translate that into clear cut goalscoring opportunities. Vinicius initially thought that he had broken the deadlock with 20 minutes to go after latching onto an inch-perfect through ball from his Real Madrid teammate Rodrygo and slotting the ball into the bottom corner. However, Richarlison – who initially won the ball to kick off the move – was chalked offside following a lengthy VAR check, so the 22-year-old’s second international goal was overturned.Embed from Getty Images
Richarlison also came close to adding to his goal tally, as did Raphinha, but it was Casemiro who sealed the victory, firing home a half volley following an excellent touch from Rodrygo. Before the game, the Manchester United new boy revealed: “We can’t stop talking about Neymar,” but now the Brazilians are only talking about him.
Despite Brazil’s lacklustre performance, they became just the second side to guarantee their place in the knockout stages – after France – with one game to spare. But, Murat Yakin’s stubborn Switzerland didn’t make it easy. In fact, they had a few opportunities to steal all three points for themselves. Silvan Widmer’s low driven cross was followed up by Djibril Sow, but the Selecao did well to clear their lines. Captain Granit Xhaka also had a few shots at the target.
As far as results go, Brazil have had the perfect start to the competition by picking up six points from six. However, after the game, Tite was critical of his side’s lack of creativity. He said: “Obviously Neymar has a different skill-set. He is a player who in a magical moment can dribble past you and all of a sudden, you say, ‘What happened here?’.
“Other players are getting there to get to the level he is at and I hope they get there. Yes, we do miss Neymar, we do miss him. He has a big creative power, he’s very effective so we miss him, yes.
“But there are other players who can take their opportunity.”
With Neymar not expected to return until the round-of-16 at the earliest, the Brazilians will have to find a solution before their final group game against Cameroon on Friday.
Rigobert Song’s side shocked the world on Monday when they came from a two-goal deficit to steal a point from their 3-3 draw with Serbia, and they will be looking to complete a similar feat this week in a bid to remain in the tournament.
It’s still all to play for in Group G, with three teams eyeing that final spot in the round-of-16.Embed from Getty Images