On a day where Germany’s World Cup title defence came to an end in shocking circumstances, and in a World Cup where other major footballing powers have struggled, you could have forgiven Brazil for being a little nervous heading into their final group game against Serbia. They were widely expected to win, but they entered the field in the full knowledge that a loss would almost certainly eliminate them and cause a national crisis in Brazil. It’s fair to say they were under a fair bit of pressure. They delivered, putting in a commanding performance and never really giving the Serbians a chance.
The game started fairly slowly, with few chances for either side in the opening minutes as Brazil occasionally threatened but couldn’t quite finish off their most dangerous attacks. Serbia settled in well, aided by star Brazilian left-back Marcelo’s bizarre ailment and his substitution in the first 10 minutes of the match. Brazil seemed to be in control of the game, but they didn’t really look like breaking through against a well-set Serbian defence. Then, just after the first half hour, they went ahead.Embed from Getty Images
Paulinho (right) scores Brazil’s first goal past Serbian goalkeeper Vladimir Stojković. Paulinho’s dangerous forward runs from midfield broke the game open for Brazil by splitting the Serbian defence.
The goal came out of nowhere, and was completely unsurprising at the same time. It was inevitable that there would be a goal, and that the goal would probably come from Brazil, but Brazil’s play in the preceding minutes didn’t really suggest that the breakthrough was imminent. The goal itself was spectacular. Paulinho made an incisive, defence-splitting run from the centre of midfield, and Philippe Coutinho’s lofted through ball picked him out perfectly. Vladimir Stojković rushed forward, but he couldn’t beat Paulinho to the ball and he didn’t stand a chance as it was lifted over his head with one touch. The Serbian defence began an on-the-spot inquiry into what had gone wrong, but it didn’t change the fact that they were in deep trouble.
Brazil had some more chances to double their lead before and after the break, with Neymar sending a shot fizzing just wide of the target and having another attempt denied by Stojković, but they didn’t add to their lead. Then, around the hour mark, Serbia began to hit some form. Aleksandar Mitrović had started the game quietly, but for a few minutes he came to life and nearly scored. Mitrović had his best chance when Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson knocked a cross straight to the big striker. Somehow, he headed it straight into an otherwise helpless Thiago Silva, and the ball bounced mercifully back to a very grateful Alisson. The ball began to go into dangerous positions, and Mitrović had another chance to score when Fagner found himself horribly outmatched by the towering Serbian frontman. Once again, his header wasn’t good enough, and this time the shot flew straight at Alisson. Then, just as Serbia seemed primed to push for a leveller, Brazil pulled further ahead.Embed from Getty Images
Thiago Silva (left) heads home Brazil’s second goal from Neymar’s well-delivered corner. Silva’s goal killed off any hope Serbia had of snatching an improbable victory.
Neymar started it, swinging a flat corner into the front post. Miranda and Thiago Silva, Brazil’s centre backs, were waiting amongst a mass of bodies. Miranda and Mitrović collided and both fell to the turf, leaving everyone in disarray and allowing Silva to take advantage of the confusion. Nikola Milenković was there, but he couldn’t stop Silva’s header from burying itself in the top corner. If Serbia had harboured hopes of reaching the knockout stages, Silva’s goal ended them in an emphatic manner.
Brazil kept pushing for a third in the closing moments, with Neymar putting a shot over the bar and Stojković making a number of strong saves to keep the Serbians from getting blown out. It didn’t get any worse, but that was scant consolation as they exited the tournament to a Brazilian team who were not spectacular, but more than good enough on the day. They never really looked like losing, and their consistency is sure to make them a dangerous opponent going forward.
Moscow – Otkritie Arena
Brazil 2 (Paulinho 36, Thiago Silva 68)
Referee: Alireza Faghani (Irn)
Serbia (4-2-3-1): Stojković – Rukavina, Milenković, Veljković, Kolarov; Matić, Milinković-Savić; Tadić, Ljajić (Živković 75), Kostić (Radonjić 82); Mitrović.
Brazil (4-2-3-1): Alisson – Fagner, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Marcelo (Filipe Luís 10); Paulinho (Fernandinho 66), Casemiro; Willian, Philippe Coutinho (Renato Augusto 80), Neymar; Gabriel Jesus.
1. Neymar (Brazil)
Neymar has grown into the tournament with every game, and he put in a strong performance to seal Brazil’s passage to the knockout stages. He was unlucky not to score his second goal of the tournament as he found himself denied on a number of occasions, but he picked up an assist and had a big impact.
2. Philippe Coutinho (Brazil)
Coutinho picked up an assist with a perfectly weighted pass for Paulinho, and he continued to create chances with his ability to find space and use the ball well. He has been in stunning form, and another quality performance means he will be a real worry for anyone facing the Brazilians.
3. Vladimir Stojković (Serbia)
Some of Stojković’s saves were excellent, especially a one-on-one stop to deny Neymar. He kept Brazil’s lead to just two with his smart positioning and excellent reading of the play, and was the only thing keeping them in the game by the end of it.
4. Paulinho (Brazil)
Paulinho made some great forward runs from midfield, and he got himself a goal by splitting the defence and pushing forward well. His run to break through the solid Serbian defence was excellent, and he broke the game open with his hard work and ability to time his attacking runs to perfection.
5. Filipe Luís (Brazil)
For many teams, losing a full-back of Marcelo’s quality in the first 10 minutes would trigger panic. For Brazil, it just triggered the release of Atlético Madrid left-back Luís – one of the world’s best – into the fray. Luís slotted in seamlessly, and his quality will give Marcelo the chance to recover fully. His excellent performance shows just how deep this Brazilian team is.