Philippe Coutinho and Neymar struck in second-half injury time to edge past obstinate Costa Rica and ignite Brazil’s World Cup 2018 campaign.
The pre-tournament favourites dominated play, but appeared set for a damaging second-successive draw in Group E only for the onrushing attacking midfielder Coutinho to strike during injury time. Neymar then recovered from a cancelled penalty call to volley in from close range.
Here are our player ratings:
Alisson – 6: The Real Madrid-target was a spectator at Saint Petersburg Stadium. He had zero saves to make. Might worry about fine performance of Keylor Navas at other end.
Fagner – 6: Did a competent job at right-back in place of the injured Danilo of Manchester City. His cross caused Gabriel Jesus to hit the crossbar.
Thiago Silva – 6: Used experience to sweep up any punts from the back by Costa Rica as they desperately tried to relieve pressure. Bigger tests will come, starting with Serbia.
Miranda – 7: Concentration remained sharp to deny Bryan Ruiz twice with key headers. Would have been happy to retain head coach Tite’s faith after Switzerland error for leveller.
Marcelo – 5: Had the most touches for Brazil as the ball kept coming to his left flank. But the Los Blancos left-back’s end product was uncharacteristically poor.
Paulinho – 5: The Barcelona centre midfielder made no impression on proceedings. Usual driving runs from deep did not occur. Only offered lateral passing options, which Costa Rica relished.
Casemiro – 5: Suffered a bloodied nose in the early stages when he took a ball to the face. Defensive attributes weren’t required and his presence did nothing to speed up Brazil’s torpid ball rotation.
Philippe Coutinho – 8: Brazil appear to have a new saviour. Play funneled through him and was locked in duel with Madrid goalkeeper Navas before nutmegging him at death.
Willian – 4: This was not the Chelsea winger’s day. Hooked after 45 ineffectual minutes and replacement Douglas Costa did far better. Spot in XI is at serious risk.
Gabriel Jesus – 6: Rattled the crossbar with a second-half header and mis-control played in Coutinho for the late, late winner. Movement was better than against Switzerland.
Neymar – 5: A second match in a row that the world’s most expensive player has underwhelmed. But this time, got his goal at the end. Showed petulant side for penalty ruled out by VAR.
Douglas Costa – 7: Was much better than Willian. His pass sparked Neymar’s penalty incident, plus he later teed up the superstar for his pressure-relieving goal.
Roberto Firmino – 6: Rose high to win header that eventually led to Coutinho’s breakthrough. Awful finish ruined amazing move.
Fernandinho – N/A: City battler was given last few minutes to shore things up after first goal.
Poland and Colombia were expected to run away with the pool. But surprise 2-1 defeats were inflicted last week on the former by The Lions of Teranga, and the 10-man latter by Samurai Blue.
Another three points for either at Ekaterinburg Arena should provide a critical advantage heading into next Thursday’s final matches.
Here are the key tactical battles:
SHINJI OKAZAKI V M’BAYE NIANG
It wasn’t just the final whistle that was a welcome sight for Japan in the final stages of their historic win against Colombia.
Peripatetic Leicester City forward Okazaki played the final five minutes to show he had recovered from a sore calf that at one stage threatened his participation in the competition. This was the 32-year-old’s 114th international appearance.
Torino’s Niang took advantage of a touch of fortune to break his international duck at the eight attempt. With Stoke City striker Mame Biram Diouf so underwhelming, responsibility rests with him to fire Senegal into the round of 16 for the first time since 2002.
GAKU SHIBASAKI V IDRISSA GUEYE
A midfield battle to relish awaits at Ekaterinburg.
Getafe’s Shibasaki was inspirational against Colombia as Japan became the first Asian side to defeat South American opposition at any World Cup. No Samurai Blue star made more key passes (two), while his four tackles was the second highest and his two interceptions was joint top.
Standing in his way on Sunday will be Everton’s Gueye – unless he’s dismissed early doors like Espanyol’s Carlos Sanchez.
Gueye’s shot was deflected in by defender Thiago Cionek to force the opener, although his tally of just one tackle was far less than last season’s Premier League average per game of 3.5.
YUTO NAGATOMO V ISMAILA SARR
Players at contrasting stages of their career will clash on Sunday.
Internazionale-owned left-back Nagatomo, 31, should win his 107th international cap when the Lions of Teranga come to town. His ceaseless drive was on show against Colombia, whom he made a leading six clearances against.
Sarr is only 20-years old. But his supreme technique and fleet of foot on the right flank have already attracted the likes of Barcelona, whom he turned down last summer to join Rennes.
No Senegal player made more dribbles or was fouled more than him against Poland (both two). The key now is to better his zero accurate crosses from three attempts.
El Tri put in a stunning opening performance in Group F last week, their bravado and desire gaining requisite reward through exciting PSV Eindhoven winger Hirving Lozano’s fine finish.
This stands in contrast to the sorry Taeguk Warriors. They failed to register an attempt on target against Sweden, who inflicted a 1-0 defeat thanks to centre-back Andreas Granqvist’s second-half penalty.
Here are the talking points ahead of Saturday’s clash at Rostov Arena:
SON ISN’T SHINING
Sweden’s victory hit Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min harder than most.
Korea’s great hope had no attempts on goal and had 50 touches – just the sixth most for his team.
“I’m still disappointed about my performance and feel very, very sorry for my team-mates because if we don’t score, it’s my fault, because I need to take the responsibility,” said a penitent Son.
Worryingly, this display supplies further evidence for the dichotomy in his career.
A fine return of 18 goals in 52 matches was registered for Spurs last term. For his country, the 25-year-old has one strike during the last eight caps.
Son’s problem must be filtered through a malaise that has afflicted his nation.
They stumbled through qualifying, losing three of five away games – enough to see Germany’s Uli Stielike lose his job as head coach.
A variety of formations have been used by replacement Shin Tae-yong to little positive effect.
The repeat of 2014’s “humiliation” that Son warned of pre-tournament appears close to fruition.
22 - Son Heung-Min has been involved in 22 goals (14 goals, 8 assists) in 23 appearances at Wembley Stadium this season for Tottenham, more than any other player. Crucial. #TOTJUV pic.twitter.com/OCy305xYkA— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 7, 2018
EL TRI’S CHANGE OF TEMPO
A contrasting challenge awaits Mexico this weekend.
Head coach Juan Carlos Osorio came into the tournament with criticism stinging his ears. The retort was to produce a tactical masterstroke that required full buy-in from his squad.
El Tri kept the pressure on in Germany’s half and defended with discipline. But they bravely allowed the likes of Carlos Vela to stay up top and constantly offer an out ball.
Once found, the Los Angeles forward led the charge to provide support for West Ham United striker Javier Hernandez.
This attitude reached its genesis when Juventus centre midfielder Sami Khedira was robbed of the ball deep in Mexico’s half. Four passes later, Lozano was characteristically checking back inside and rasping a low shot into the bottom corner on 35 minutes.
This time, they’ll be expected to set the tempo against opponents who’ve lost five of their last seven fixtures.
Counter-attack opportunities should be at a premium as Korea flip this approach on its head. It is a challenge that Osorio is eager to embrace.
He said: “It’s time for Mexico to show that we can take the initiative.
“There is a big difference between playing against Germany or [another] powerhouse. We are, supposedly, superior to our opponents.
“We have to impose our [own] conditions.”
Mexico haven’t won successive World Cup matches since 2002. But another victory would see a likely second-round meeting avoided with pre-tournament favourites Brazil.
Esto es de todos!! Se juegue o no!! Que gran grupo! Gran triunfo, gran esfuerzo!! Pero solo es un paso, con mucha ecuanimidad, a disfrutar y a partir de los próximos días enfocarnos en el siguiente rival!!! #NadaNosDetiene #VivaMéxico pic.twitter.com/4AQoxZmuwI— Chicharito Hernandez (@CH14_) June 17, 2018
SHIN MUST LIFT SENSE OF DOOM
All the morbid tournament predictions about South Korea rang true at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
Shin’s muddled and troubled year-long reign continued with a hapless display. The Taeguk Warriors showed little fighting spirit and chose to launch an artillery bombardment towards giant Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors centre forward Kim Shin-wook.
A paltry five, wayward attempts on goal followed.
This regularly bypassed star player Son. Rather than test the creaking legs of grizzled Krasnodar centre-back Granqvist, they served up his ideal approach.
The problems continued in defence. It should not have required the Video Assistant Referee to punish Suwon Samsung Bluewings-owned centre-back Kim Min-woo’s reckless slide in the area on Krasnodar winger Viktor Claesson.
At the World Cup, they’ve now kept just one clean sheet in their last 13 matches and are winless in their last five matches.
A potential wildcard exists in Barcelona youth product Lee Seung-woo. It is also vital that Jeonbuk attacking midfielder Lee Jae-sung and Red Bull Salzburg forward Hwang Hee-chan can impose a greater influence on proceedings.
With holders Germany sure to be in need of a result in next week’s last outing, Korea must dig themselves out a sizeable hole.