Brazil vs Costa Rica: Neymar still off his best, Los Ticos take sting out of game, VAR delivers - or does it?

Philippe Coutinho hit late in added time before Neymar consolidated a vital victory for Tite's men

Samuel Lovett
Friday 22 June 2018 14:18 BST
Brazil World Cup profile

Brazil left it late to secure a much-needed 2-0 win over Costa Rica in St Petersburg.

Having been frustrated for the full 90 minutes of regular time, Brazil were saved by Philippe Coutinho's late goal before Neymar struck moments later to confirm the win.

Costa Rica had come close to taking the lead in the opening 15 minutes, and impressed with their defensive display for much of the match, but were ultimately undone by the Brazilian's late brilliance.

So, what did we learn?

1. Costa Rica take sting out of the game

It’s a tactic that has been repeatedly deployed by the competition’s lesser sides when taking on the heavyweights: sit back, tighten up and absorb pressure in the hope of catching your opponent on the break. Here, Costa Rica ticked all the boxes as their defensive-minded approach took the wind out of Brazil’s sails (until the final, frantic minutes of the match, that is). The boys in blue started vibrantly but it wasn’t long before they found their game-plan unravel against the Costa Ricans.

Los Ticos enjoyed particular success in limiting Neymar’s influence on the game as they chopped and hacked at the Brazilian star, who was fouled no less than five times before the half-time whistle.

Costa Rica made life as hard as possible for Neymar and his teammates (REUTERS)

Effective in defence, Costa Rica were similarly threatening on the front foot. A coiled spring throughout the match, the side was poised to pop into action in the face of Brazil’s overwhelming pressure. Indeed, Los Ticos came close to taking the lead after just 13 minutes as they caught Brazil with a speedy break down the right flank. After a well-worked interchange between Cristian Gamboa and Johan Venegas, the former hurtled down the wing before firing back a low-driven ball to Celso Borges. The Costa Rican should have found the target but, instead, his effort fizzed wide of the left post.

Not all of Costa Rica’s counter-attacks were as effective but the side nonetheless possessed a permanent threat that was of concern to Brazil.

2. Neymar still off his best

After his school-boy performance against Switzerland, this was Neymar’s chance to make amends. Starting in a central position, the Brazilian initially looked sharp and more focused on bringing those around him into the game.

But it was his early break through on goal that suggested the midfielder is continuing to struggle for form. Meeting a well-timed Phil Coutinho ball over the top of the Costa Rican defence, Neymar’s poor touch let him down, allowing Keylor Navas to smother the attack. What would have usually been a simple control and goal for the star ended in disappointment.

Neymar was off his best once again (AFP/Getty Images)

Contrasted against this, though, Neymar still flashed with his trademark brilliance. An audacious chip-and-chase here, a thunderous, curling shot there (and of course, a late goal too): at times mesmerising, at times frustrating. Costa Rica of course made matters harder in targeting him but, in reality, this was nothing he’s not been subject to before. He may have eventually found the target after a number of missed chances, but Neymar certainly remains off his best.

3. Tite’s men guilty of overplaying the ball

Against a side deliberately looking to disrupt the rhythm of the game, Brazil’s tendency to overplay the ball may well have served against them. It’s a quality we’ve come to expect from the South Americans over the years but, on this occasion, the Brazilians were often guilty of taking one too many touches when in possession. With Costa Rica working hard to close down space and eliminate the channels available to Brazil, Tite’s men needed to be more diligent in moving on play where appropriate.

It was Gabriel Jesus who ultimately suffered as a result, receiving minimal service from his teammates – particularly in the first half – while Brazil as a whole registered just one shot on goal before the break. To break down sides of Costa Rica’s nature, slick, quick free-flowing football is the only option.

Brazil were guilty at times of overplaying the ball (Getty Images)

4. Brazil need to take their chances

Tite’s men certainly stepped up their game in the second half as they committed more players going forward and, as a result, enjoyed more chances in front of goal. Casemiro, Coutinho and Neymar all came close, with the latter forcing a memorable instinctive save from Navas, before later curling a teasing shot wide of the top-right corner, while the former squandered a close-range header. There’s no doubting the side have lost their consistency and until they reclaim it, goals will remain hard to come by. Indeed, there’s only so many times they can rely on Coutinho to get them out of hot bother.

5. VAR delivers – or does it?

The decision to overrule the penalty awarded to Neymar was the correct one, with the Brazilian making a meal out of his tussle with Giancarlo González. Falling to the floor after seemingly being grabbed by the defender, VAR showed that Neymar had indeed dived in search of a penalty. On this occasion, the video assistant referee proved its worth.

However, such was the rough-and-tumble approach deployed by Los Ticos, it was no see to see a number of Brazil’s forward men dragged to the deck when competing for high balls in the Costa Rican box. Except, though, there was no fallout from such incidents. VAR is there to review these sort of incidents but, as was the case with Harry Kane against Tunisia, the technology remained unused. Time for a closer review into the system.

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