A dramatic added-time double from Philippe Coutinho and Neymar claimed a 2-0 win for Brazil in their Group E clash with Costa Rica in St. Petersburg that moved the PSG striker to tears upon the final whistle.
One day after Lionel Messi, another of the tournament’s potential stars, found himself on the wrong end of a 3-0 hammering when Croatia routed Argentina in Nizhny Novgorod, the attention turned to Argentina’s rivals in St. Petersburg.
Like Messi, Brazil number 10 Neymar had been frustrated by perceived lower opposition in their opening game, being held to a 1-1 draw by Switzerland in Rostov. Neymar, sporting a new haircut to the one that was trolled as a ‘pasta bowl’ in that game, was determined not to repeat Messi’s follow-up.
When the match kicked off, Neymar showed wonderful link-up play with lone striker Gabriel Jesus, dropping deep to channel play from midfield to the Manchester City man and it wasn’t long before their blistering partnership paid dividends.
Jesus had the ball in the net, rifling into the roof of the net after the ball landed at his feet 10 yards out, but the goal was chalked out for offside. Replays showed it was the correct decision.
Costa Rica themselves have an early chance when Celso Borges skewed wide from close range after a great run and pull-back by Cristian Gamboa. But after that it was all Brazil with Neymar channelling the midfield play though to Jesus.
Brazil had a first half penalty shout when Paulinho was wrestled to floor in the box while challenging a Willian corner, but the referee Bjorn Kuipers waved away protests. At best, the appeals looked soft.
After the restart and the game’s two main protagonists started with much of the same intent as they did the first half. Only the body of Keylor Navas prevented Neymar from slotting home from close range, before Jesus’ header tantalisingly hit the bar moments later.
Then Neymar tried his luck from further out, but his 25-yard drive went agonisingly wide of the left-hand corner of Navas’ goal. The PSG man dinked and shimmied all he could in the latter stages of the second half, but Costa Rica’s tenacity never looked like wavering.
The 26-year-old looked to have gotten a break when he was awarded a penalty after being held back inside the box while attempting a turn. Under pressure from Costa Rica players, Dutch ref Kuipers consulted VAR before dramatically ruling out the spot kick and instead giving a free-kick to Costa Rica in their own area.
Then the climax: in the 90th minute Marcelo crossed from the left flank. The ball was headed down and the a flick-on from Gabriel Jesus found the path of Philippe Coutinho to poke home from close range. Brazil had drawn first blood in extra time.
Moments later, Brazil doubled their lead when Jesus squared for Neymar; there looked to be some question about offside, but replays proved the ball was played sideways and Neymar, nullified for most of the game, slotted home a second.
The gravity of the goal was evident on the face of the player at the final whistle, as he sank to his knees and began to sob, exorcising the demons of the previous 180 minutes of World Cup football.
With the win, Brazil go top of Group E with 4 points, while Costa Rica are consigned to an early World Cup exit after claiming 0 points from their two games.