Brazil vs Costa Rica: 5 questions to ponder

Brazil and Costa Rica meet in St. Petersburg in Friday's lunchtime kick-off. Can the Brazilians get their campaign back on track?

REUTERS/Henry Romero

Brazil will head to St. Petersburg frustrated by an opening day performance that will leave many questioning their early credentials.

Having been held to a 1-1 draw by Switzerland after an underwhelming performance, Tite’s side know the eyes of the world will be on them as they try to get back on track. 

A stuttering attack, a disappointing midfield display and a defence that was breached all too easily: Brazil’s Sunday evening outing in a nutshell. 

Costa Rica will also head to the north-western corner of Russia licking their wounds. An abject display saw the 2014 surprise package easily beaten by Serbia. 

The level of togetherness, spirit and never-say-die attitude of four years ago is a quickly fading memory as the Central American nation face the prospect of being eliminated after only two matches. 

Both sides have a point to prove on Friday, though from Brazil’s point of view, it can’t get any worse than 2014… surely?

  1. 1 Can Brazil shake off the shackles?

    REUTERS/Darren Staples

    In the buildup to the start of the tournament, Brazil's attacking potential dominate many a discussion. 

    Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Willian, Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino... the list goes on. Despite the evidently superior firepower over their opponents, Brazil looked toothless on Sunday evening. 

    There was a lot of huffing and puffing, a lot of possession and a lot of 'trying' but, in reality, the Swiss goal was never in any real danger after the early Coutinho strike. Tite's side weren't playing with any fluidity, everything was laboured, slow, predictable. 

    The Swiss are notoriously difficult to beat and, while they may not win many, settling for a point against the supposed far-and-away group favourites is no crime. 

    Teams that have been labelled as underdogs, weaker and inferior are giving their opponents a hard time so far at this World Cup; France struggled against Australia, Uruguay against Egypt, Germany were beaten and Spain limped to a narrow 1-0 win over Iran. 

    From a Brazilian point of view, the threat of being eliminated by not winning should spur Costa Rica on, forcing them to come forward and attack - it could play into Brazil's hands.

  2. 2 What's happened to Costa Rica?

    REUTERS/David Gray

    Four years ago the football world was stunned when not only did Costa Rica escape from a group containing Italy, Uruguay and England but made it to the quarter-finals.

    The fairytale, though, is fast-becoming a distant memory. The Costa Ricans have the second-oldest squad at the competition, with 25-year-old Francisco Calvo being the youngest starter in the XI on Sunday. 

    The team has a stale aura around it, with much of the emphasis and hopes still being pinned on the likes of Bryan Ruiz, Celso Borges and Christian Bolaños, all of whom are over 30. 

    Sunday's game, although lost narrowly, had a very different feel about it from the 3-1 win over Uruguay in Brazil four years previously. 

    Costa Rica are no longer a surprise package, a dark horse. Was their achievement a flash in the pan, a one-time thing, or can Óscar Ramírez conjure up one more surprise?

  3. 3 Changes for La Selecao?

    REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff

    The fitness and availability of Neymar has been shrouded in doubt in the lead up to this fixture, and his participation in any capacity remains an unknown. 

    The Barcelona forward was seen limping out of the Rostov Arena after a physical affair with the Swiss and was also reportedly suffering a knock to his ankle after an incident in training.

    There is a suggestion he may be fit enough to take part on Friday, but would it be worth risking him? Neymar's influence when playing for club or country is undeniable, though there is an added sense of pressure on Brazil to perform when he plays. 

    Eyes from all corners of the world are on him whenever he plays, and at a World Cup, that stage is that bit higher. 

    Were he to miss out, Tite may bring Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho back into the starting XI, allowing Coutinho to push forward into a more natural, attacking position. 

    Willian was also rather quiet on the other side on Sunday, so the likes of Douglas Costa and Firmino will hope to see rotation. 

  4. 4 How can Costa Rica pull off a win?

    REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

    The Costa Rican backroom team will have made a point of scouring Brazil's first match with a fine-toothed comb. 

    In a magnificent midfield display, Swiss Valon Behrami showed all future opponents how to match, or at least, blunt the Brazilian attack. 

    The ex-Watford man didn't let Neymar out of his sight, rarely allowing him a moments' peace. Neymar was isolated, and while he may have grounds to complain of unfair treatment having been fouled ten times in the 90 minutes, Behrami was the unsung hero of the Swiss performance.

    If Neymar were to sit this one out, it may help the Brazilians rather than harm. Being a marked man every time he plays, it may ease the issues they faced going forward. 

    After the less-than-convincing defending of set-pieces, the Costa Ricans may look to exploit the nervy backline from the air. 

    Brazil, though, will be out to make a statement, hungry to make teams fear them. The draw with Switzerland may have false-started their journey but expect a performance on Friday. 

  5. 5 Are Brazil still prone to a defensive lapse?

    REUTERS/Marko Djurica

    As host nation last time out, Brazil conceded an alarmingly high amount of goals. Although they shipped seven in one game, the team looked defensively frail throughout. 

    Sunday's concession from a simple corner highlights some critical issues that Tite needs to address. Steven Zuber won't score many easier headers than he scored on Sunday. 

    Despite having most of the possession and much of the game under control, there is something uneasy about a retreating Brazilian side, something that doesn't fill their fans with complete confidence.

    How do you think Friday's game will go? Let us know by commenting below.

  1. Poll: Who will come out on top on Friday?

    1. Brazil
    2. Costa Rica
    3. Neither - it will be a draw
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Jack Dudley

Football writer and Championship enthusiast, currently based in the Middle East.