Underwhelming Brazilians held by dogged Switzerland

Neymar surged into the box, looking as threatening as ever as he challenged the determined Swiss defence. Brazil’s star had started the game slightly quietly, with Switzerland closing him down aggressively every time he got the ball. Now, with options aplenty available to him, he decided to pass the ball out wide, where Marcelo was waiting after one of his customary attacking runs from left-back. Marcelo’s cross left a little to be desired, and Steven Zuber easily headed it away. Unfortunately for Zuber and Switzerland, it was Philippe Coutinho who controlled the ball outside the box, took a shot, and watched as it rebounded off the post and went in. It was a stunning goal, leaving Yann Sommer with no chance as it swerved devilishly into the back of the net. After 20 minutes, the goal gave Brazil the lead, and it seemed like the first goal of many to come.

Brazil had controlled the early part of the match. Switzerland started the game solidly, but they were merely keeping their more skilful opponents at bay and posed little attacking threat to a much improved Brazilian defence. Meanwhile, Brazil’s lethal front four of Neymar, Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus and Willian probed the Swiss defence, working on finding a way through. As solid as Switzerland looked, it was only a matter of time. When Coutinho and Neymar combined delightfully to give Paulinho a shot from just a couple of metres away, Switzerland were very lucky not to concede. Soon Brazil were in full flight, combining brilliantly and giving their opponents plenty of trouble. When they took the lead, they didn’t seem ready to stop. They looked like pushing on and announcing their intentions with an emphatic victory.

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Neymar (left) attempts to get past Valon Behrami. Behrami and Neymar had a key battle throughout the night, and the experienced Swiss midfielder generally came out on top.

Then, just like that, Brazil stopped pushing. Tite formed his team up into a solid defensive structure, and happily allowed the Swiss to control the ball and get themselves back in the game. For the rest of the half, there were no slick passing moves, just a well-organised defensive wall which was prepared to hold the lead. For their part, Switzerland had little chance of breaking through. They too were happy to settle, and their ball movement was too slow to seriously challenge a disciplined back four. With no real outlet for their control of possession and territory, the Swiss never threatened, but Brazil’s cautious approach meant they never looked like going further behind either. Brazil seemed comfortable enough.

Then disaster struck. Less than five minutes after half time, Brazil’s previously organised defence faltered. Xherdan Shaqiri’s corner was swung into the six-yard box, where Zuber was apparently unmarked and in a perfect position to head home from point blank range. The Swiss were back level, and Brazil’s strategy of sitting deep and continuing to repel their opponents’ rather feeble attacks had failed. Now they had to get themselves back on the front foot, but regaining the lead was easier said than done.

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Xherdan Shaqiri looks to move forward with the ball. Shaqiri provided the assist for Switzerland’s goal, and was always dangerous on the break.

Fernandinho took a couple of very ambitious long shots, one of which flew deep into the stands behind the Brazilian goal. Coutinho got space to take another shot in a difficult position, but it was blocked and his follow-up shot was emphatically denied as well. Another chance went begging when Coutinho attempted a shot from fairly close range, and it swerved dramatically – in the wrong direction. Jesus went down in the box, but referee César Ramos was unmoved by Brazil’s appeals for a penalty. In the meantime, the Swiss defence was rock solid, and the dangerous Shaqiri was beginning to find some space on the break.

The chances kept on coming. Roberto Firmino arrived off the bench and challenged Sommer with two very good headers. The Swiss keeper was up to the task. Neymar could have bundled in a cross, but he could only volley it straight at Sommer, who saved it comfortably. As time expired, Brazil could have scored from a Neymar free-kick, a Willian corner and Miranda’s well-hit volley which rolled just wide of the post. The Swiss played their roles to perfection, and when the final whistle blew they thoroughly deserved to take their share of the points. In the dying moments, a massive red balloon managed to find it’s way into Brazil’s penalty area, with Brazilian keeper Alisson popping it with an emphatic stamp. It was an indictment on Brazil that Alisson’s efficient removal of the balloon was one of the most clinical things any Brazilian did all day.

Rostov-on-Don – Rostov Arena
Brazil 1 (Philippe Coutinho 20)
Switzerland 1 (Zuber 50)
Referee: César Ramos (Mex)
Brazil (4-2-3-1): Alisson – Danilo, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Marcelo; Casemiro (Fernandinho 60), Paulinho (Renato Augusto 67); Willian, Philippe Coutinho, Neymar; Gabriel Jesus (Roberto Firmino 79).
Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer – Lichtsteiner (Lang 87), Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez; Behrami (Zakaria 71), Xhaka; Shaqiri, Džemaili, Zuber; Seferović (Embolo 80).

Top 5
1. Manuel Akanji (Switzerland)
Akanji was remarkably composed for a 22-year-old in just his eighth international, and he provided plenty of solidity in central defence. He won the ball when he needed to and was more than capable of handling the threats of Brazil’s dynamic and skilled attackers. He was Switzerland’s most solid defender, and he will take massive confidence from his brilliant performance.
2. Philippe Coutinho (Brazil)
Coutinho was Brazil’s most dangerous attacking player, operating in between attack and central midfield and working his way into dangerous spaces. His strike to put Brazil into the lead was one of the best goals of the tournament thus far, and the bend he was able to put on the ball was, at times, scarcely believable. If he keeps his form up he will be nearly impossible to contain.
3. Valon Behrami (Switzerland)
Behrami managed to win a place in the starting line-up over young gun Denis Zakaria, and he relied on his experience to ensure that he did not disappoint. He did a particularly good job in containing the influence of Neymar with good closing speed and an excellent physical presence, and made a big difference while he was on the pitch. To cap it off, he also became the first Swiss player to play in four World Cups.
4. Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)
Shaqiri worked hard in both attack and defence, and was particularly dangerous in the second half as Brazil pushed determinedly and space opened up for him on the counter. He caused Brazil’s defenders plenty of problems with his skill on the ball and surprising strength for his diminutive stature, and it was his cross that allowed Switzerland to equalise.
5. Marcelo (Brazil)
Marcelo has been known to create a weak point in the Brazilian defensive line with his desire to get forward and join the attack, but against the Swiss he managed to find a perfect balance between defensive diligence and attacking flair. He still contributed to the attack, but he showed a defensive steel that he doesn’t often display and suggested he could be in for a good tournament.

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