After defending champions Germany's shock, but deserving, defeat to Mexico in their opening match of the FIFA World Cup, there was certainly no room for more surprises on Sunday. If tournament favourites Brazil had also suffered a loss to Switzerland, 17 July would've gone down as the day of ultimate upsets in the annals of the sport's history. Well, Brazil didn't lose, but a 1-1 draw against a resolute and gritty Switzerland at the Rostov Arena raised quite a few questions.
Playing their first match of the tournament, a lot was expected of this high quality Brazil team. With star player Neymar being fit and other key players showing form ahead of the mega event, Brazil were supposed to put out a statement of intent against a presumably inferior Switzerland side. Instead, the game turned out to be a blueprint for opponents on how to contain and frustrate the South American giants, exposing various weaknesses in the team.
Brazil's head coach Tite started with Chelsea midfielder Willian on the right and Barcelona's Philippe Coutinho falling behind to play in the centre. Gabriel Jesus, a personal favourite of Tite, started as forward instead of Liverpool's Roberto Firmino while Neymar was chosen to attack from the left. Things started on expected lines with Brazil dominating possession and looking for an early breakthrough. In the 20th minute of the match, Coutinho gave his team the lead when he found the back of the net with a sensational curling effort from outside the box. This was not the first time he scored that kind of goal as he made his name by converting such stunners for his ex-club Liverpool. Giving him so much space at such a dangerous position was criminal from the Swiss defenders.
It looked like Coutinho's goal was just the start and Brazil were set to pile on more misery on their opponents. But Switzerland were not settling to play in the damage control mode. After conceding, the Swiss organised themselves defensively and started controlling the proceedings by keeping possession. Meanwhile Brazil, for strange reasons, did not raise the tempo after taking the lead. At the stroke of half-time, Brazil were leading the game but they were no where near impressive.
After the break, Brazil showed intent to take the match away from the Swiss team, but before they could implement their plan, Steven Zuber equalised from a corner with a thumping header in the 50th minute. It was clearly a mistake from Brazilian centre-back Miranda, who failed to check Zuber's jump. Miranda and his teammates argued with the referee that Zuber had in fact pushed the defender before heading the ball in. Replays, however, confirmed that there was simply no merit in Miranda's demand.
High on confidence after scoring the goal, Switzerland were now asserting themselves on the game. They were winning the crucial tackles and showed a lot of promise going forward. It seemed as if Brazil were completely taken aback by the equaliser and were struggling to control the pitch. A lot of it had to do with the way their main man, Neymar, was playing. After recovering from a serious foot injury and making it to the World Cup squad, much was riding on him to ensure Brazil had a successful outing in Russia. But as the match progressed, the PSG forward found it difficult to make an impact. He often dropped way too deep to get hold of the ball, leaving him cramped. Switzerland clearly had a plan to man-mark Neymar and they were quite up to the task. Valon Behrami was especially outstanding when it came to frustrating Brazil's most important player.
Tite had said before the start of the game that Neymar is completely match-fit, but looking at his performance against Switzerland, fresh concerns have now crept up regarding the fitness of the forward.
As time ran out for Brazil, Tite tried to infuse energy by introducing midfielders Fernandinho and Renato Augusto. Brazil could've had a penalty in the 74th minute when Manuel Akanji put his arms around Jesus to bring him down inside the box. But the referee and the VAR thought the challenge was perfectly legal. In the dying minutes of the match, Brazil gave it their all with Roberto Firmino, who replaced Jesus, going close with a header, only for Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer to pull off a good save. Eventually, Brazil couldn't find the winner and the match ended in a draw.
Things were looking positive for Brazil before the start of the game, but now they have plenty to ponder over before they play their next group game. For a side of such quality, there was very little creativity on the pitch against Switzerland. Brazil also has to find a way to attack when Neymar is man-marked. Taking cue from the Swiss players, opponents will now try to play a more physical game against the Brazilians with the focus being on Neymar. Also on Sunday, Jesus did not live up the hype, and Tite will have to decide whether to stick with him or start with Firmino.
Brazil need put out a strong performance against Costa Rica to make sure they get the momentum back and be counted as favourites to lift the title.
Updated Date: Jun 18, 2018 14:25 PM