After a long struggle, Brazil eventually claimed their first three points of this World Cup with a 2-0 victory over Costa Rica, Philippe Coutinho and Neymar both on the scoresheet as the side finally broke the deadlock with two injury time strikes. Their opponents made it tough on Friday, a determined defensive performance similar to that shown by Switzerland as the Selecao were held to a 1-1 draw in their opening match.
Those strikes made all concerned breathe a huge sigh of relief following a second half where Brazil had thrown the kitchen sink at their dogged adversaries only to draw a blank right up to the final minutes of the match. Yet for all the joy at their eventual triumph, it is clear that this team still have much work to do if they are to live up to their reputation as tournament favourites.
Neymar in particular seemed to spend more time complaining at the referee than replicating the brilliant play that saw Paris Saint Germain pay a world record transfer fee for his services last summer. His protests seemed to have been vindicated when it seemed that he had been fouled in the penalty area, only for the official to overturn the initial penalty award when VAR ruled that the forward had made the most of the contact.
It is important not to forget that this was only Neymar’s fourth match since three and a half months out following a fractured metatarsal during domestic action, and his Coach insists that he is yet to reach his full potential. “He is resuming a process,” Tite told reporters after the final whistle. “He played the full match. He is a human being, he needs some time to resume his high standard. Before then there is a team that has to be strong and not depend on him.”
On that front, there were some positive signs for Brazil as Philippe Coutinho was on the scoresheet once again, the in-form Barcelona forward having fired in 10 goals in his last 10 matches for club and country. As this previous column called for the inclusion of Juventus winger Douglas Costa, his substitute appearance at half-time certainly gave Tite some food for thought.
In just one half of action, Costa received the ball 34 times from team-mates and completed 27 of 30 passes, and provided the assist for Neymar when the latter scored the second goal. He was successful in five out of seven attempted take-ons, the most of any player in the Brazil side, and furthermore was dispossessed just once, having created three chances for team-mates.
These positive signs highlight that Brazil are likely to grow into this tournament, but have not come out with all guns blazing as was expected following their stunning qualifying campaign. Such improvement will not only depend on the form of Neymar, but will be reliant on the entire side working as a unit, especially if they are to break down some of the more determined sides in this World Cup.