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Coutinho spares Brazil’s blushes against Costa Rica

The board had just been raised. Six minutes of injury time. Six minutes for Brazil to arrive at the 2018 World Cup. They didn’t look like Brazil. They didn’t play like Brazil. Where were they, the nation that defines this tournament like no other?

Here, at last. It wasn’t a very Brazilian goal. It was, truth be told, rather English. Marcelo whipped a cross in from the left, Roberto Firmino rose to win the header, Gabriel Jesus couldn’t quite bring it under control, Philippe Coutinho arrived late to finish smartly past Keylor Navas.

A touch of the Frank Lampard’s, all things considered. No matter. Brazil’s boys may have been in blue, but they proved they were not yellow. They shrugged off the pressure, and expectation, to get the win.

When the second came, with almost the last kick of the game, Neymar converting a cross from Douglas Costa, coach Tite could barely smile. It was too intense, too close, even though the scoreline suggest otherwise.

Yes, Brazil were two goals better than Costa Rica – probably more – but they can’t afford to leave it this late again. They will not wish to endure this once more against Serbia next week.

Brazil’s fans arrived singing ‘Ciao, Messi!’ but for a while it looked as if it might be ‘pa-ka Neymar!’, too.

Nobody was expected to use the Russian for goodbye to Brazil’s superstar so early in the tournament but a second draw looked as if might leave them desperately vulnerable. 

A brilliant rearguard action by Costa Rica and in particular goalkeeper Keylor Navas was partly responsible, but inescapably Brazil are not themselves here.

The injury to Neymar is a key factor, obviously, because he does not look comfortable, but the rigours of the European season – now almost all Brazil’s starting players reside abroad – the pressure of expectation and a fluctuating tempo all made a contribution to a tense afternoon. 

Neymar was reduced to a dive 11 minutes from time in an attempt to win the game, which VAR corrected after referee Bjorn Kuipers initially gave a penalty. Soon after, he was booked for dissent; looking increasingly overwhelmed by the tournament stresses.

It goes without saying that Brazil have not been at their best at this tournament but if confirmation were needed it came in the 41st minute here. Brazil’s first shot on target, four minutes before half-time – and by a defender, too.

Marcelo, of Real Madrid, was the trail-blazer. Indeed, for much of the first-half, he was their most ambitious attacking option. He had a go in the 29th minute, too, cut inside and shot wide across the face of goal. He was operating down Neymar’s flank as well: make of that what you will.

He looked in trouble, Neymar. Didn’t contribute much, kept reaching down to feel his bothersome ankle. Brazil’s travelling band were not sympathetic, either. Just as Lionel Messi takes the blame when Argentina fail, so Brazil’s woes are heaped on Neymar.

He killed right back Christian Gamboa in the 18th minute, flicking the ball deftly over his head and sprinting away until tugged back illegally. But that was it, early on, a rare ray of sunlight in an otherwise dull display.

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