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FIFA World Cup 2018: Brazil show maturity in breaking the shackles against Serbia

Serbia had well laid out plan to thwart Brazil but the five-time champions adapted to the situation and sealed a 2-0 win to qualify for the Round of 16 of FIFA World Cup 2018.

football Updated: Jun 28, 2018 19:00 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Moscow
FIFA World Cup 2018,Brazil national football team,Paulinho
Brazil defeated Serbia 2-0 to qualify for the pre-quarterfinals of FIFA World Cup 2018. (REUTERS)

There was an air of buoyancy as Brazil coach Tite addressed his post-match press conference after his team defeated Serbia 2-0 to reach the last-16 of the FIFA World Cup, at the Otkritie Arena.

“I am at peace. I will allow myself a drink of caipirinha (a popular Brazilian coacktail),” he said minutes after the win.

A few hours earlier, bookmakers had installed Brazil as the firm favourites for the title after Germany’s shocking exit from the tournament.

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On the pitch, Brazil responded with a performance that displayed maturity that has been missing from some of the top guns in the tournament. Mladen Krstajic’s Serbian side had a well laid out plan and were set up in a way that the Brazilian attack found itself smothered.

Gabriel Jesus, like in the previous two games, was stymied by some tough, watchful defending. Neymar’s runs down the left flank were heavily tracked and Philippe Coutinho was under scrutiny in midfield.

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Within minutes from kick-off, Brazil had found themselves shackled against a well-organised Serbian team. To compound matters, left-back Marcelo had to walk away with a back injury in the 10th minute of the game. He was replaced by Felipe Luis.

Tite’s Brazil, however, are far from a one-trick pony, as they have shown over the last couple of years. Against Serbia, they adapted to the new situation.

Fielding a low defensive line, they tried to attack their opponents on the counter. On the left flank, Neymar and Coutinho started being more prominent, while on the right, Willian was creating a few problems for Aleksander Kolarov.

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It wasn’t proving to be enough to unlock Serbia’s defence though. And then, up stepped Coutinho.

The Barcelona star’s role was more akin to that of a central midfielder and in the 35th minute he found Paulinho, who had gone on a clever run towards the Serbian box, with a perfect long pass from the middle of the park.

With the goalkeeper to beat, Paulinho lobbed the ball over the keeper with a toe-poke to hand his side the lead. The majority of the 44,190-strong crowd at the stadium roared in approval.

Minutes into the second half, Brazil faced another sticky situation. Using their wingers Adem Ljajic and Dusan Tadic, Serbia had started to attack Brazil’s flanks.

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The crosses began to fly in and Aleksander Mitrovic had three chances within a five-minute span. He, however, was offered little time and space for his attempts and none of his shots managed to trouble Brazil’s goalkeeper Alisson.

Thiago Silva and Joao Miranda, both set to turn 34 each this September, may no longer have the pace to match the young forwards, but the pair, with their incredibly astute positioning, showed in that brief spell of sustained pressure by Serbia why they continue to be Brazil’s first-choice centre-back pairing.

Then in the 68th minute, Neymar earned a corner at the other end for Brazil to relieve some pressure from his teammates. Silva himself landed the sucker punch on Serbia from the resulting delivery as he headed in to double his side’s lead.

There was no coming back from here for the European team. Brazil had a couple of more chances towards the end but another goal didn’t come.

Not that the missed chances would matter much to Tite, who will now prepare the side for a tricky test against Mexico in the Round of 16.

Asked about odds favouring Brazil for the title following Germany’s exit, Tite replied, “We don’t live off expectations. We live off reality.”

First Published: Jun 28, 2018 19:00 IST