1300 BST, Friday 22 June, St-Petersburg Stadium (St. Petersburg), ITV
Pre-tournament favourites Brazil face Costa Rica in their second of three group games as the South American giants bid to get their World Cup campaign back on track.
A draw in the opening fixture with Switzerland has given the Brazilians a somewhat false start in Russia, and Tite’s men need to put things right quickly.
After incessant targeting from the Swiss in Sunday’s game, as well as limping out of Brazil training yesterday, there are question marks over Neymar’s fitness and his involvement in this fixture is now in doubt.
Brazil were heavily expected to top Group E, though anything but a win will leave that expectation in serious peril – particularly if Serbia eliminate the possibility by beating Switzerland. Costa Rica, the surprise package at the 2014 World Cup, have had a poor start to their campaign and were tamely beaten 1-0 by Serbia.
Group E was considered by most as relatively open, at least before the tournament began. Switzerland’s draw with Brazil hasn’t done Costa Rica any favours, and they will need to avoid defeat on Friday, or they’ll be eliminated at the very first hurdle.
Last Time Out
Brazil 1-1 Switzerland
Tite’s side started the World Cup unconvincingly and were held to a 1-1 draw by the Swiss, a country many expected them to beat.
Build-up play was lacking fluidity and intensity as Brazil’s high-potential front three failed to click and gel, with Neymar seemingly trying just a little too hard and taking too much of the burden upon himself.
A trademark Philippe Coutinho strike from outside the area put Brazil ahead, his curling effort too accurately placed for Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer to keep out.
On the balance of play, Brazil probably just about edged the advantage heading into half-time, though the lack of pace and intent eventually caught up with them. Steven Zuber easily found space on the edge of the six-yard box and climbed highest to power a header past Alisson into the top of the net.
The inevitable Brazilian pressure built as they went in search of a winner, though they rarely tested and threatened the Swiss goal.
Costa Rica 0-1 Serbia
Costa Rica’s laboured performance in the opening round of fixtures showed little promise for future results, as they were beaten by a solitary goal in Samara.
The defeat was the fifth in seven matches for the Central American nation, and it was a match they would have banked their hopes on not losing.
Los Ticos now need to beat Brazil to have any real chance of emerging from the group which in turn would put the Brazilians on the brink of an embarrassing exit.
Oscar Ramirez’s side offered little on Sunday evening and were eventually undone by a fantastic Aleksandar Kolarov free-kick shortly after half-time, though it could have been more had striker Aleksandar Mitrovic been able to finish.
The whole of Brazil is once again holding its breath over the fitness of their superstar, Neymar. The Paris Saint-Germain forward limped out of the Rostov Arena on Sunday, despite playing the full 90 minutes, as well as from Brazil training this week.
Brazil’s camp have expressed their concern over the treatment of Neymar, which they feel was unfair: Neymar was fouled ten times by the Swiss.
Should Neymar be unavailable for the game, Philippe Coutinho could be moved onto the left flank, with either Fernandinho or Renato Augusto taking the vacant spot in midfield, or Douglas Costa could provide a straight swap.
Costa Rica Lineup
Costa Rica’s squad is the tournament’s second-oldest, and the average age of the starting XI on Sunday was a few days short of 30, which could provide issues in terms of fitness for consecutive fixtures.
Joel Campbell, Bryan Oviedo and Christian Bolaños will all hope to feature on Friday after having varying involvement in the first fixture.
Key Battle: Philippe Coutinho (Brazil) vs Johnny Acosta (Costa Rica)
Costa Rica right-back Johnny Acosta is one of the oldest members of the Costa Rican squad, and his lack of pace can be an issue.
Serbia’s Dusan Tadic and Aleksandar Kolarov had lots of joy down the left-flank on Sunday, and Acosta can expect an even tougher test from the likes of the inter-changing Philippe Coutinho and Willian, as well as the threat offered by Marcelo from left-back.
Tite could look to overload the left flank by sending Marcelo forwards to support Coutinho and create a two on one against Acosta, forcing the defender to commit one way or another and open up space.
Coutinho was a real difference-maker against Switzerland, and should Neymar fail to feature, much of Brazil’s attacking threat will come from the Barcelona man and his array of talents.
A Neymar-less Brazil
Although there is scope to argue that Brazil could be better without Neymar (whisper it quietly), it’s based on the fact that he played poorly against Switzerland, though this was largely due to his treatment at the hands of the Swiss defenders.
KEY STAT: Neymar made the most key passes (4) of any player in the 1-1 draw with Switzerland.
Although Neymar looked to do most things himself – and failed in doing so -, perhaps detracting to the overall fluidity of Brazil’s game, realistically, they will be worse off without a man of his talent.
When drawing a game, you want a player willing to take the opposition on and create chances out of nothing when the rest of the team – or the system – is faltering. His absence, if he doesn’t recover in time, will be noted.
The role of Coutinho
Without Neymar, Tite will likely have to push Coutinho into a role on the left flank as a wide playmaker, with Renato Augusto covering his absence in the centre of midfield, alongside regulars Casemiro and Paulinho.
However, this could prove problematic for the Brazilians. Particularly against a compact low block such as Costa Rica’s, Coutinho’s range of passing will be instrumental in picking the lock of this five-man defence.
KEY STAT: Coutinho made the most passes (79) of any player in Brazil’s draw with Switzerland.
A midfield of Augusto, Paulinho and Casemiro doesn’t explode with creativity and it’s, frankly, uninspiring. Their purpose would be, simply, to win the ball back and progress it to a more creative player.
It means Coutinho could end up dropping deeper into a midfield role, leaving space on the left flank either empty or for Marcelo to attack from left back. With Marcelo advancing, though, the left side of Brazil’s defence is consequently exposed.
Who would have guessed moving Coutinho could cause such an imbalance?
Prediction: Brazil 2-0 Costa Rica
Costa Rica look a shadow of the side that made it to the quarter-finals four years ago, with many of their side now over the hill in terms of age and, thus, fitness, which could have consequences in this game.
Despite potentially lacking Neymar, Brazil have the strength in depth to compensate on a one-off basis – they made it to the 2014 semi-final without him – and they’ll get the job done when it counts, with the pressure mounting on this game after their opening draw.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Brazil and the rest of the action from Day 5 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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