Brazil 2-0 Costa Rica Six Things: subs key for Selecao

Tite’s changes worked a treat –

Injury-time goals from Coutinho and Neymar gave Brazil their first win of Russia 2018 – a 2-0 triumph over Costa Rica. Here’s six things from the game.

Costa Rica counters

Oscar Ramirez’s side started positively; while they were well-organized, they still managed to find some composure in possession. Because Marcelo was so far up the pitch, there were gaps in behind that Cristian Gamboa exploited. After a strong 12th-minute run, the Celtic man found Celso Borges, who hit just off-target. With all 11 starters over 27 however, Costa Rica naturally had to drop into a deeper shape midway through the first half, but they still managed to limit their opponents.

Imbalanced Brazil

A large proportion of Brazil’s first half play came through the left-channel and the trio of Marcelo, Neymar and Philippe Coutinho. The unique individual quality of those players meant they created chances – Keylor Navas denied Neymar one-on-one – but the lack of balance was an issue. All three wanted to cut inside very quickly into the congested central areas, without trusting the right-sided duo of Fagner and Willian with possession and thus became one-dimensional.

Selecao’s improved second half

Brazil’s approach play became far more varied in the second half, thanks to two key changes at the break from Tite. Firstly, he introduced Douglas Costa, who offered more of a threat down the right flank which forced the opposition rear-guard to shuffle across more often. Secondly, he evidently instructed Neymar to stay close to the touchline when the ball was in the middle third. Those changes opened up more space and thus chances started to come, as Gabriel Jesus headed onto the bar. After that, only a rightly VAR-revised penalty decision from referee Bjorn Kuipers against Neymar, an inspirational goalkeeping display from Navas and crucial blocks from Johnny Acosta kept Costa Rica in the game.

Firmino’s impact

The central American outfit were unable to maintain their last-ditch defending in the closing stages. Acosta, Giancarlo Gonzalez and Oscar Duarte had only had to handle Jesus in the first 67 minutes but when Firmino came on, he occupied Duarte and that made it harder for the centre-backs to keep an eye on runners from deep; Coutinho and Neymar took advantage. The former latched onto his former Liverpool teammate’s knock-down to prod home in injury-time, before Neymar tapped in after some good work from Costa.

Spirit not enough for Los Ticos

For an underdog to be successful at a World Cup, they need two of three things: spirit, energy and quality. Costa Rica had spirit in abundance and there were brief periods when they gave the five-time winners a fright. The problem was that they had neither the energy to sustain those periods of pressure, nor the quality to make them count and that’s why they can have few complaints should, as looks likely, they be knocked out after their final Group E clash with Switzerland in Nizhy Novgorod.

Turning point for Tite’s team?

For three-quarters of Brazil’s first two games, they have looked, if not awful, well below the standards required for potential World Cup winners. Coutinho’s goal though puts them in a far healthier position in their Group and means the team is now favourites to win the tournament with some Bookmaker Bonuses. If they were looking for a divine moment to kick-start their campaign, they might just have found it.