FIFA World Cup 2018: Brazil ease into last 16 with win over Serbia
Brazil comfortably reached the FIFA World Cup 2018 last 16 after Paulinho and Thiago Silva scored in each half to give them a 2-0 win over Serbia who were eliminated on Wednesday.Updated: Jun 28, 2018 02:23 IST
Hindustan Times, Moscow
A Paulinho toe-poke past the goalkeeper in the first half and a Thiago Silva header in the second helped Brazil clinch a nervy 2-0 win over Serbia at the Otkritie Arena in Moscow on day. The win saw Brazil seal top spot in Group E and set up a Round of 16 clash against Mexico in Samara on July 2.
Brazil started off with a couple of early attacks, both of which ended up finding Gabriel Jesus in offside positions. In a game of tight spaces, Serbia made things difficult for Brazil as the midfield duo of Nemanja Matic and Sergei Milinkovic-Savic helped the backline keep a check on the opposition’s vaunted attack.
In the 10th minute, the Selecao suffered a major blow as influential full-back Marcelo walked off in tears due to injury. He was replaced by fellow left-back Felipe Luis.
For the next few minutes, Brazil struggled to control proceedings as Serbia’s compact set-up helped restrict the movements of Neymar & Co.
As the game progressed, Brazil used more of the wide areas. Coutinho and Neymar started growing into the game, with the former often taking a more centralised role in midfield.
In the 24th minute, Jesus led a Brazil attack and beat two Serbian defenders near the box. He passed the ball to Neymar whose shot from a tight angle was met with a one-handed save by Serbia’s goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic.
Five minutes later, Neymar almost broke through the left flank but was brought down to the ground by Adem Ljajic, who was promptly shown an yellow card.
With ten minutes to go for half-time, Brazil finally got their goal as a perfect ball from Coutinho to Paulinho, who had made a run down the middle, unlocked the Serbian backline.
Paulinho found himself in a one-on-one situation against Stoijkovic. The Barcelona midfielder expertly toe-poked the ball past the keeper to hand his side the lead.
The five-time world champions, however, offered little threat for the remainder of the half. Their next best chance came just before the half-time break when Neymar tried to curl in a shot from the left flank, only for it to harmlessly float over the goal.
Serbia entered the pitch in the second half with more attacking intent than what they had shown in the first half. They had a promising counter in the 54th minute when Milinkovic-Savic broke away. His passed to Ljajic who tried to set up Tadic for a chance but the pass was far from accurate and Brazil cleared the ball.
A couple of minutes later, a dangerous cross from Ljajic was met with a panicky clearance from Joao Miranda. Serbia were now knocking on the door. For the next few minutes, they put sustained pressure on Brazil’s penalty box.
Aleksander Mitrovic found himself at the end of three opportunities within a five-minute spell. The first one, where Mitrovic had little time to react, was met with a fragile header that failed to trouble Brazil custodian Alisson. Two minutes later, he was in space for a shot from inside the box that went over and wide. Then his header from a few yards out landed straight in the hands of Alisson.
In the 68th minute, Brazil, however, landed the sucker punch on Serbia. A darting run by Neymar down the left was cleared for a corner. The Paris Saint-Germain forward then put in perfect delivery that was headed in by the unmarked Thiago Silva, much to the delight of the Brazilian fans behind the goal.
The goal deflated the Serbian side that had dominated most of the proceedings in the half so far and Brazil managed to slow down the game for the remaining minutes to seal victory.
First Published: Jun 28, 2018 02:23 IST