Macdara Ferris reports from St Petersburg
After holding out for over 90 minutes against Brazil, there was heartbreak for Costa Rica who let in two injury time goals as a nervous Selecao side prevailed 2-0 in St. Petersburg on Friday afternoon.
With qualification to the next round drifting away from being directly in Brazil’s hand, their late late double from Philippe Coutinho and Neymar leaves Brazil on four points going into the final group game against Serbia while Costa Rica exit the competition.
We still await some of the big boys of this World Cup to step up and shine in this tournament and that is still the case after this game in St. Petersburg. However maybe we saw some important qualities from Brazil that could mean they can lift the World Cup trophy for the sixth time.
They showed perseverance and patience, under the usually heavy pressure of expectation from back home, to take all three points but only just.
Neither side could really afford a defeat, particularly Costa Rica who lost their opening game and with that in mind Oscar Ramirez went not just with three at the back but it was very much a back five as they looked to contain Brazil’s impressive attacking threat.
Unsurprisingly Neymar was being closely marked and Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers was quick to step in to ensure the Costa Ricans didn’t rotate their fouling as Switzerland had cynically done in the opening game.
Indeed after the game the Costa Rican head coach noted that “we knew that Neymar had problems with the injury but we never tried to hurt him. We did it fairly.” Other sides who will come up against Brazil later in the tournament mightn’t be so charitable.
The Boys from Brazil who lined out in all blue kit had most of the ball in the first half (66% possession) and they did have the ball in the net with a fine finish from Gabriel Jesus on 26 minutes but it was correctly ruled out for offside without the intervention of VAR which we would have later in the game.
Brazil on three first half occasions had Neymar able to whip free kicks from dangerous positions out wide but the Ticos defence dealt with them. Initially Giancarlo Gonzalez got up highest to head clear and Keylor Navas showed strength to come through a crowd to claim on a couple of occasions.
Navas had to rush off his line as Neymar bore in on goal wide from the right but the Real Madrid ‘keeper got down and smothered the ball at the PSG player’s feet.
With Neymar being tightly marked, it allowed Marcelo a bit more freedom to get forward down the Brazilian left. His shot just before the half hour mark went a fraction wide of the post and he followed that up with another shot which was more wayward.
The chances were mounting for Tite’s men and Philippe Coutinho came close next but unlike in Brazil’s first game he couldn’t get his shot to curl inside the post this time.
While Costa Rica looked to break quickly when they did turnover the ball, three shots were all that they could create in the opening half – and none of them were on target - even if Celso Borges’ effort went too close for Brazil’s comfort.
Five minutes after the break, Brazil almost took the lead as Jesus hit the crossbar with the follow up from Coutinho somehow drifting wide of the target.
Costa Rica were beginning to buckle under the Brazilian pressure. Just before the hour mark, Neymar blazed over from near the penalty spot when he should have scored and then Coutinho hit a daisy cutter that Navas easily dealt with.
Tite brought on Roberto Firmino to add some more creativity in midfield to see if he could help unlock the Las Ticos defence and it would eventually prove dividends.
Inexplicably Cristian Gamboa allowed Neymar nip inside and take the ball of his toes. The crowd rose to their feet in expectation of the PSG player’s shot nestling into the back of the net but while it curled goalwards but not inside the post.
It looked like Neymar had won Brazil a penalty with 12 minutes to go but after reviewing on VAR the officials felt Neymar had gone down too easily when being in the general vacinity of Gonzalez.
Neymar’s frustruation showed when he went in the book for bouncing the ball with too much vigour in front of the Dutch referee but the player was soon joining in a Brazil goal celebration.
There were six minutes of injury time available but Brazil only needed one of them to win the match – with Coutinho getting his second goal in two games as he arrived late to a Robert Firmino knock down to break the Costa Rican hearts.
To rub salt in the wounds of Las Ticos, Neymar got on the scoresheet tapping home an unselfish Douglas Costa centre to give the scoreline an even better look.
Brazil: Alisson;Fagner, Thiago Silva ©, Miranda, Marcelo; Casemiro, Paulinho (Roberto Firmino 68); Willian (Douglas Costa h/t), Philippe Coutinho, Neymar; Gabriel Jesus (Fernandinho 90+1).
Subs not used: Ederson, Cassio, Marquinhos, Geromel, Danilo, Filipe Luis, Renato Augusto, Fred, Taison,.
Booked:Neymar (80), Philippe Coutinho (82).
Costa Rica: Keylor Navas; Cristian Gamboa (Francisco Calvo 75), Johnny Acosta, Giancarlo González, Oscar Duarte, Bryan Oviedo; Johan Venegas, Celso Borges, David Guzman (Yeltsin Tejeda 84), Bryan Ruíz ©; Marco Urena (Christian Bolanos 54).
Subs not used: Patrick Pemberton, Leonel Moreira, Ian Smith, Kendall Waston, Ronald Matarrita, Daniel Colindres, Rodney Wallace, Randall Azofeifa, Joel Campbell.
Booked:Johnny Acosta (84).
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Nederlands).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Philippe Coutinho (Brazil).