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FIFA World Cup 2018: Versatile Philippe Coutinho adds depth to Brazil’s campaign

Philippe Coutinho, who scored a brilliant goal in Brazil’s opener against Switzerland and provided assist to Paulinho’s goal against Serbia, has been his team’s most influential player in their quest for a sixth FIFA World Cup.

football Updated: Jun 28, 2018 23:35 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Moscow
FIFA World Cup 2018,Philippe Coutinho,Neymar
Philippe Coutinho has delivered consistently for Brazil in the ongoing FIFA World Cup. (AFP)

“Everyone speaks about Neymar, but (Philippe) Coutinho is proving that he’s also a massive player for Brazil. When all the defenders focus on Neymar, he pops up and decides matches,” Brazil great Roberto Carlos had written in a column on The Sunday People prior to the Selecao’s 2-0 win over Serbia at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on Wednesday evening. (FIFA WORLD CUP 2018 FULL COVERAGE)

In Brazil’s three matches so far, Coutinho is indeed proving to be the key difference. Neymar continues to be crucial to the team’s hopes, as he showed by setting up Thiago Silva’s header that sealed the win over Serbia, but Coutinho has been a revelation this summer.

Signed by Barcelona earlier this year as a late replacement of friend Neymar, who had moved to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) last summer, Coutinho finished the season strongly for the Catalans.

ALSO READ: Brazil show maturity in breaking the shackles against Serbia

Playing on the left flank, he had been a crucial cog in Liverpool’s attacking wheel prior to his departure to Spain. But it is the ease with which he has adapted to a much deeper role in Brazil at this World Cup that really testifies to the versatility of Countinho as a player.

With Neymar playing on the left and occasionally drifting into the middle, Coutinho, who has been operating on the left side of a three-man central midfield, has found himself intertwined between playmaking and defensive duties.

And the 26-year-old midfielder hasn’t disappointed so far. Against Serbia, a team which offered little space to their opponents down the middle, Coutinho kept a watch on Neymar whenever the latter moved up the flanks.

ALSO READ: Brazil superstar Neymar yet to get his groove back

The idea was not just to aid Neymar but also to help prevent counters if the PSG star lost the ball. When in possession, Coutinho took over playmaking duties. Having provided Brazil the breakthrough in their opening two games, Coutinho had a major hand in his side’s opening goal on Wednesday as well.

With Nemanja Matic and Sergei Milinkovic-Savic keeping a check on Brazil’s creative stars, Coutinho spotted Paulinho with a lofted ball from the middle in the 35th minute. Paulinho’s goal helped open up what had been a very tight game till then.

Paulinho would later term Coutinho a ‘phenomenon’, according to Marca.

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It wouldn’t be an inaccurate description of his role in Brazil’s campaign so far. In a team of multiple creative outlets, Coutinho has emerged as the main puppeteer for the team’s vaunted attack.

When coach Tite was asked about Coutinho’s performance at his post-match press conference, he chose not to answer the question. He said he would not like to focus on individuals. Perhaps it was Tite’s way of trying to keep the focus away from the player.

But there is little denying Coutinho’s importance to this team. In a tournament where the big guns are yet to fully fire, the Barcelona midfielder is making Brazil tick. If they are to win their sixth title this summer, Coutinho is likely to have a major role in the coming games.

First Published: Jun 28, 2018 20:42 IST