After a stuttering start to the World Cup, Brazil has been boosted by a solid display against Serbia and the banishment of an old ghost
Brazil has finally woken up after a very quiet start to the World Cup, as two disappointing performances against Switzerland and Costa Rica were followed by a convincing win against the Serbs, in a decisive group-stage match which eventually gave Tite’s men the deserved leadership.
Brazil was able to stick to its habit and topped group E in Russia 2018. It was the 10th time in a row finishing in first place at the World Cup. At one stage, it seemed like coming top would be a recipe for suicide, with an early final against the Germans, who were expected to finish second following a surprise defeat against Mexico. However, as time passed, it seemed more and more that this defeat was far from a fluke, and that the Germans were no longer the force they once were when beating Brazil 7-1. Another 2-0 blow against South Korea only helped confirm that.
With Brazil’s biggest taboo, or to put it this way, the team they would have been nervous about the most when facing, is already out. This is already a mental relief to the players. How can it not be, when it confirms that what happened four years ago will have absolutely no influence on what happens this time around. It helps the members of the 2014 squad no longer doubt themselves and understand that what is in the past, remains in the past. If anything, Brazil must now be looking at the blackout in Belo Horizonte, with more motivation than ever to prove their doubters wrong.
As Brazil comfortably overcame Serbia, the good news was the return of Neymar to a level close to his usual one. Of course, he is yet to hit top gear but his first half was extremely promising and by some distance, his best in the tournament. It’s like he suddenly regained the ability to toy with defenders with such ease, that only someone of his technical class can. He seemed joyful on the pitch all over again, playing with less pressure and more freedom. It is expected that the Paris Saint Germain star only improves from this point onward, as he continues to regain fitness following a three-month injury he picked up in the European season. Brazil was able to somehow deliver the goods, even with an average Neymar in the first two matches, so imagine when this side can suddenly rely on a top-three player in the world, in the knockout stages of the competition.
Philippe Coutinho was once again Brazil’s saviour as he stole the show with a sensational long-range assist to Paulinho, who squeezed it behind the back of the defenders and netted the opener with a finish worthy of a proper striker. This is the surprise factor that the Barcelona man can bring to the table – his unpredictability against sides that play with an advanced back-line, something the Serbs had to do if they were to advance to the next round.
Meanwhile, Thiago Silva pulled out yet another rock-solid performance and is making a serious case for being the best defender at the World Cup. His goal in the second half, from a Neymar corner, meant that Brazil would double its lead before completely dominating the rest of the game. Casemiro looked as confident as ever, whereas Filipe Luis replaced Marcelo – who had felt a bit of pain in his back but is now okay – in the best possible of ways. However, Willian and Gabriel Jesus continued their struggle and failed to leave a good impression.
Besides qualification, the best news was that none of Casemiro, Coutinho and Neymar picked up a yellow card, which would have led to their suspension. They are all set and ready ahead of the Mexico clash in the round of 16, on Monday. It is an opponent that has always caused Brazil problems, but the Seleção will look to it as an opportunity to reclaim self-esteem and confirm that this Brazil side is different from others and will not repeat past failures.