marching on

Brazil seal last-16 progression with controlled win over Switzerland

Casemiro was the unlikely matchwinner.

Brazil 1 

Switzerland 0

AFTER A BERSERK day of World Cup football along came the deeply sensible Brazil, progressing to the last-16 with a controlled, choreographed win over Switzerland. 

Neymar’s absence meant the performance lacked any sense of gratuitous flair, but that Brazil won without him is a good sign and more encouraging still is the sheer grown-up control they exerted over this game. 

Brendan Rodgers, in a typical flourish of modesty, once said club management is like trying to build an aeroplane while flying it. With players like this available, international management is a more straightforward, humble act: as Didier Deschamps and France showed four years ago, the job is about playing with the accelerator and the handbrake, knowing how to strike the right balance at the right time. 

Here Tite let the handbrake slip south slowly, his swapping out Lucas Paqueta for Rodrygo at half-time the key switch, liberating Vinicius Junior and thus Brazil’s attack.

They had to wait for the goal: Casemiro’s wonderfully certain volley arrived with seven minutes of normal time remaining but Brazil never gave a sense of panic, never fretting that the goal may not come. 

Brazil stand in stark contrast to the seething, writhing mass of emotion that has become of their great rivals Argentina, which Tite will take as a great compliment. If this is the World Cup in which South America break two decades of European control, Brazil will be the side to do it. 

wcup-brazil-switzerland-soccer Tite, controlling his side's tempo. Andre Penner Andre Penner

But first: handbrake cranked up. The injured Neymar was replaced by Fred and the consequences were  predictable. Brazil were firm, controlled, but lacking invention. They bloodlessly controlled the first-half, creating little beyond Vinicius’ first-time side-foot from Raphinha’s whipped right-wing cross, which was batted away by Yann Sommer. Raphinha quickly took matters into his own hand, dashing in off the right wing to the middle of the field, wrapping his foot around a shot that flew too close to Sommer. 

Brazil were largely untroubled out of possession, however, their structure smothering Swiss build up play, while they could rely on the back-pedalling pace of Eder Militao and the sweeping abilities of Alisson Becker to snuff any danger latent in long hoiks up the pitch. 

Tite loosened the shackles a bit at half-time, swapping playmaker Lucas Paqueta for Real Madrid forward Rodrygo. Where Pacqueta dropped off to link play, Rodrygo ran directly at the Swiss defence,  instantly signalling his intent with a liquid back heel chop from a challenge for which he earned a shoulder flush to the face. Rodrygo’s direct running had the effect of drawing defenders, thus creating space for Vinicius Junior in the left-side channel. Vinicius’ strides are a delight to watch: his is less a run that it is a straight-backed, frictionless lope across the grass. 

When Alisson escaped unembarrassed from Embolo’s block on his clearance, Brazil countered immediately and released Vinicius on the left, who saw an audacious outside-of-the-boot cross narrowly miss the airborne figure of Richarlison, who had thrown himself at the six-yard box. Vinicius thought he himself had given Brazil their lead midway through the second half, latching onto a pass and hurdling a desperate, flailing tackle before deciding in his own sweet time to open his body and roll the ball beyond Sommer. It wouldn’t be right to say the celebrations were cut short, as they were completed by the time the VAR finally announced the goal was disallowed for an offside in the build-up. 

Thwarted, Tite lowered the handbrake a little further, removing Fred for the more creative Bruno Guimaraes in midfield. Gabriel Jesus and Antony arrived for Richarlison and Raphinha and the goal finally arrived. Though for all of Tite’s controlled theatre, he can’t have forecast the headline act. Again it involved Vinicius and Rodrygo, the latter flicking the former’s pass into the box for Casemiro, who cut across the ball and volleyed it behind Sommer. The conviction of his volley was Brazil’s performance distilled. 

brazil-v-switzerland-fifa-world-cup-2022-group-g-stadium-974 Casemiro scores the winning goal. PA PA

Brazil should have had a second before the end, with Rodrygo seeing a penalty-area shot blocked by Akanji with the goal at his mercy. 

It didn’t matter as Brazil closed out a 1-0 win with ease.

This was Tite’s perfect tempo.

Europe’s contenders must do something to interrupt it. 

Brazil: Alisson Becker; Eder Militao, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Alex Sandro (Alex Telles, 86’); Casemiro, Fred (Bruno Guimaraes, 57’); Raphinha (Gabriel Jesus, 72’), Lucas Paqueta (Rodrygo, HT), Vinicius Jnr; Richarlison (Antony, 72’) 

Switzerland: Yann Sommer; Silvan Widmer (Fabien Frei, 86’), Manuel Akanji, Nico Elvedi, Ricardo Rodriguez; Remo Freuler, Granit Xhaka, Fabian Reider (Renato Steffen, 59’), Djibril Sow (Michel Aebischer, 75’); Breel Embolo (Haris Seferevoic, 75’), Ruben Vargas (Edimilson Fernandes, 59’)

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