There is a very fine line between success and failure in top-level sport. And Brazil straddled that line yesterday. But, after scoring two very late goals against Costa Rica, they managed to end the day on the right side of that line, just.
Brazil had to wait until second half injury time for goals from Philippe Coutinho and Neymar to beat Costa Rica 2 – 0 in St Petersburg yesterday. Brazil weren’t at their best, but they deserved to win the match, just like they did against Switzerland. Nevertheless, Costa Rica are hardly world beaters and I expected a more convincing performance from Brazil, who went into this tournament as favourites.
Had they drawn the headlines today would have been brutal, and there would be huge pressure on Brazil for their last match. Fortunately, that massive pressure – from a very demanding 200 million Brazilians – has been avoided, at least a little, for now.
Brazil came into the World Cup on brilliant form, but that doesn’t matter at all now. In a blog post in October last year I asked whether Brazil had peaked too soon before the competition. The showing in the first two games suggests that they just might have. I thought Brazil were decent against Switzerland and that it just wasn’t their lucky day. But I expected them to put it right against Costa Rica – to play well, score goals and win. I was quite alarmed when that didn’t happen and bizarrely, the side lacked confidence.
I’m not one of these people who defends Neymar at all costs. I think he is fantastic, but I will criticise Brazil’s star when I feel it is justified. There are many Neymar haters and in my opinion, much of their criticisms are unfair. Yes, sometimes he dives. But he also gets kicked a heck of a lot, and he is only a small guy. It can’t be easy getting kicked at least ten times every game. He never shies away from responsibility and I don’t think he is the bad apple that many people make out. At the end of the day he is a superstar and he acts like one. What’s the problem? CR7 does it too.
I thought the criticism he received after the Switzerland game was unfair. Some accused him of not being a team player and slowing the game down to the detriment of his side. I don’t think that this was the case against Switzerland, although it definitely was the case in the first half against Costa Rica. I was shocked, and disappointed: if there was some doubt about his contribution to the team after the Switzerland game, surely Tite would sit with the player and sort it out. Instead, a non-existent problem had suddenly become a big problem. Not only was this costing Brazil in attack and when in possession, but it was also exposing them to dangerous Costa Rican counter attacks when Neymar lost the ball.
Neymar doesnt need to take on players at the halfway line – he needs to do this in the final third. He doesn’t always need to slow it down and then dribble past his man. Often, the best option is to move the ball on to a teammate, quickly. We should cut him some slack since he still isn’t 100% match fit, but not all of his poor decision making can be put down to match fitness. His overall play improved throughout the game yesterday, but he still stupidly looked for a penalty (which was initially given and then reversed thanks to a VAR review) instead of shooting, and blasted wide when through on goal. Neymar is clever enough to know what is needed for his team to win and Tite will know that there is room for improvement in his all round game. I hope they will sort it out for the remaining games, because they will play better teams than Costa Rica and such mistakes will be costly.
Its not all about Neymar, of course. And there are at least three more reasons for their lack of fluidity against Costa Rica. First, they are clearly missing Dani Alves at right back. Not only is Fagner nowhere near the same level, but he is not match fit and struggled yesterday. Second, Willian was poor for the second game in a row, which is a shame after he played so well in the build up to this competition. Fortunately, Douglas Costa, who took his place at half time, was very impressive. Third, Tite is a cautious coach and he could have taken some more risks from the start against Costa Rica. I was pleased to see that he opted for two up front when Brazil were struggling to break their opponents down; ultimately, Roberto Firmino’s presence helped make the difference.
The aforementioned reasons will have contributed to a lack of confidence, but the failure to beat Switzerland – and the associated criticism they received because of that – seems to have had the biggest negative impact on the team. They played well against Switzerland and didn’t get a result, which shouldn’t really have affected their confidence. On the flipside, they didn’t play well against Costa Rica, but they did get the result. Not only does that give them a very important three points, but it will give their confidence a massive boost too. Brazil cannot be accused of lacking heart – just look at Neymar’s tears at the final whistle, or Tite falling over when celebrating a goal. Heart is important, but Brazil also need to be smart. I still think they can do it. Vamos Brasil!
Finally, a Brazilfooty delegation was at the game yesterday. Shockingly, they had their faces painted with Costa Rican flags. Okay okay, I can understand that some people might want to support the underdogs, just like I did in the Panama v Belgium game and that unless you are Brazilian football lover like me, then the default position is to support the underdog. Here are two pics from my friend Rory, who was at the game. He said that the atmosphere was electric and the Brazilian yellow and green gave the city a huge buzz.
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