Brazil finish the group phase on top of Group E, defeating Serbia tonight to knock them out and set up a round of 16 playoff with Mexico.
Goals from Paulinho after an epic run into the box, and Thiago Silva with a “Serbian-esque” thunderous header from a corner – and against the run of play – were the difference in a match were both teams spoilt other great opportunities.
The 2-0 result was a good and fitting result, despite Serbia making enough chances to have equalised when the game was at 1-0.
Brazil have 5 days to prepare for their game on Tuesday (12am AEST) against Mexico, and will hope both Marcelo and Douglas Costa (who couldn’t be used tonight) will gain fitness and create some selection dilemmas. The extra rest days can also only be a good thing for Neymar, who had an excellent game but is probably still short of match fitness.
The man of the match was Coutinho, who bossed the game in the first half and played that memorable through-ball for Paulinho’s goal. If Neymar can find his shooting range then the combination of Neymar and Coutinho will be irrepressible and could be the difference as Brazil shoot for a place on the dias in Moscow.
Perennial favourites Brazil take on Serbia in Moscow at 4am (AEST). Join The Roar for live scores and coverage of the match.
Brazil haven’t found their tempo so far in this tournament and need a good performance here to spark some form worthy of their pre-tournament favouritism. Four points have Brazil topping Group E – and a win in this game will seal first place – but their scorecard is flattered by injury-time winners against a stoic Costa Rica in their most recent hit-out.
A loss to Serbia and a Swiss draw or win would see Brazil spectacularly go out of the tournament.
Global super-brand Neymar looks underdone in this return from foot and ankle issues, and their forward combinations of Neymar, Grabriel Jesus, Willian and Coutinho have been shut down for long periods in both matches so far. Their goals have come from moments of individual brilliance (mostly from Coutinho) and not the breathtaking combinations they are capable of.
Manager Tite seems unsure of his best XI, with Liverpool striker Firmino and Juventus dynamo Douglas Costa both complicating his calculations. Costa’s injury will be a relief for Willian who will now retain his spot
Despite the protestations of the Brazilian camp, Neymar does still seem a little unready for tournament football – so there may be a temptation to rest Neymar to create an opening for one of their superlative bench options.
The Serbians, on the other hand, have put in two solid performances but are smarting after their recent loss to Switzerland. Serbia will feel they deserve more than the 3 points in hand – and with Switzerland also on 4 points Serbia need a win in this game to ensure progression.
Serbia are a well organised and even team, with an extremely experienced defensive block. They transition quickly in attack where target man Aleksandar Mitrovic and supporting midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic are big, muscular players who can hold up the ball and bring their dynamic wide players – in particular Southampton’s Dusan Tadic – into the play.
Serbia’s height and power in the box makes them lethal from aerial attacks, and Aleksandar Kolarov’s magical left foot always creates havoc from free kicks, and he has already scored in this tournament from a 25 yarder. Any set-piece will present clear and present danger to Brazil. Serbia are playing near their peak ability and will make life hard for Brazil – especially if Brazil continue to be out of sync.
However, where Brazil has strengthened their team since the capitulation of 2014 is in defence, where world-class keeper Alisson commands the ball in his area. With a reliable keeper and back 4 and a conscientious pivot in either Casemiro or Fernandinho, Brazil are hard to pick apart and won’t easily crumble under Mitrovic’s aerial force.
Ultimately Brazil’s biggest threat in this one will come from Brazil. Their pace and dynamism in the forward third should run rings around Serbia’s “Dad’s Army” defence – especially in the wide spaces – but that dynamism has been absent so far in this tournament.
Serbia will get their heads onto crosses, but if Brazil are on song they will make it hard for Serbia to have enough possession to make those chances.