After a fantastic qualifying campaign the World was told to watch out for Brazil in Russia, but in the end there wasn’t anything special on show as the Samba boys could only draw with Switzerland.
Alisson, Danilo, Miranda, Thiago Silva, Marcelo; Casemiro (Fernandinho 60'), Paulinho (Renato Augusto 67), Philippe Coutinho; Willian, Neymar Jr., Gabriel Jesus (Firmino 79').
Sommer, Lichtsteiner,Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez; Behrami (Zakaria, 71') , Džemaili, Zuber, Shaqiri, Xhaka; Seferovic (Embolo 80').
1-0 M. 20 Philippe Coutinho; 1-1 M. 50 Zuber.
César Ramos (México). T.A.; Casemiro (47') / Lichtsteiner (30'), Schaer (65), Behrami (68')
Rostov Arena (Rostov). 43.109 espectadores
It takes a special kind of character to respond after a 7-1 humiliation in front of your home fans at the last tournament, so that was probably why Brazil came flying out of the blocks against Switzerland. The opening ten minutes or so was a blur of yellow shirts swarming over their opponents, refusing to let them breathe let alone touch the ball. The Swiss probably thought it was going to be a long, long night.
With Switzerland being forced back it was allowing Brazil lots of time to work space around the penalty area. Phillipe Coutinho and Neymar combined down the left hand side before the latter’s cross was sent fizzing into the box. An unfortunate ricochet saw the ball land at Paulinho’s feet and from five yards it appeared to be a certain goal. Instead Yann Sommer got a hand on it to deflect the effort wide. A let off for the Swiss.
The tempo dropped after that opening period but Brazil were still the most dangerous looking team. Similar to Lionel Messi with Argentina, it was clear that Brazil were constantly looking to find Neymar and let the PSG wide man terrorise the poor soul in charge of keeping him quiet. Unfortunately for the floppy-haired superstar, Switzerland knew exactly how to deal with his wizardry: kick him.
Brazil finally took the lead through the man which replaced Neymar at Barcelona, Philippe Coutinho. Cutting in from the left hand side and with yards of space in front of him, we all knew what was coming. Coutinho has become a master of producing powerful, curling efforts which leave the goalkeeper stranded and this was no difference. Sommer had no chance of stopping it. Brazil were finally ahead.
However there was no sense of urgency from Brazil to try and increase their lead and as such, kill off Switzerland’s hopes of a comeback.
That calmness followed Brazil out at the start of the second half. The Swiss were ready to have a go themselves and earned a corner. It was floated into the box by Xherdan Shaqiri and up rose Steven Zuber like a salmon to nod home the equaliser. The marking was extremely slack but on second view, there was a slight push by Zuber on Joao Miranda which escaped the official’s view. They didn’t call for VAR and the goal stood and Brazil had it all to do again.
The tempo picked up again but Brazil were finding Switzerland tough to break down. Valon Behrami was doing a fantastic job at shutting down Neymar’s influence on proceedings. This saw Brazil’s star man reduced to largely looking for freekicks and yellow cards for his opponents rather than threatening to score himself. At one point he was wincing after taking a whack on his ankle but he managed to shake it off.
In the dying moments chances fell Brazil’s way. One effort was spurned by Coutinho as he couldn’t direct his volley on target. The other, perhaps the best of the night, fell to Miranda but the defender could only look on in horror as his effort took a slight deflection and rolled wide of the post.
Brazil join the likes of Argentina and Germany by having an underwhelming start to the competition. At this stage, nothing is unsalvageable, but improvement is needed if they have aspirations of winning the greatest prize in world football.