Coutinho curler not enough as Brazil held by Switzerland
Barcelona playmaker scores opener but Brazil fail to fire in their World Cup opener
Brazil’s Philippe Coutinho scores against Switzerland. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters
This was not how Brazil had scripted it. The five-times world champions were in control thanks to a trademark Philippe Coutinho screamer and the first step to avenge the trauma from the previous finals looked set to be sure-footed.
Yet one lapse was all it took for Switzerland to crash back into it – Steven Zuber heading the equaliser – and, with a priceless result within their grasp, they were in no mood to relinquish it.
Brazil complained bitterly that Zuber’s goal ought to have been disallowed for a push on Miranda but the referee, César Arturo Ramos, was correct to ignore them.
Switzerland, ranked sixth in the world, were on the back foot for almost all of the evening and they rode their luck during a frenetic finale when Brazil pushed hard for a winner. They had a flurry of chances but none would go in and, in the end, it turned out to be a valiant point for the Swiss. Brazil have cast themselves as avenging angels, even if the agony of the 2014 World Cup – when they were humiliated 7-1 by Germany in the semi-final – might never truly leave them and they have not run from their status of favourites. Far from it. Neymar had posted a message on the eve of this tie declaring himself unafraid of dreaming big. “Let’s go Brazil – for the sixth!” he wrote.
But it was not their night. Coutinho sliced when well placed on 69 minutes while Gabriel Jesus felt that he should have had a penalty when Manuel Akanji put his hands on him inside the area. In the closing minutes Neymar and the substitute Roberto Firmino headed too close to Yann Sommer, Miranda drag wide when gloriously placed and another substitute, Renato Augusto, watched Fabian Schär clear a shot to safety. The ball simply would not go in.
Switzerland wanted to impose themselves and to play their front-foot possession style but it would become a display of rearguard action. The occasion had felt different for Brazil when Coutinho put them in front and the goal was a peach.
Neymar, looking every inch the A-lister with his meticulously coiffured blond crop, popped the ball off to Marcelo and his cross was headed out by Zuber but only as far as Coutinho. The midfielder took a touch before shaping a right-footed curler into the far corner. Sommer dived at full stretch but there was nothing he could do.
Tite had started Coutinho on the left of a midfield three, which had Paulinho on the right and Casemiro at the base, but he had the scope to roam. So did Neymar. Actually, Neymar was allowed to do whatever he desired and that included a few bursts of trademark professional dramatics. Valon Behrami could be seen to laugh after one first-half Neymar tumble and there were other occasions when he went down with ease.
Neymar demands free-kicks from any contact; it is a perk of his status. But those in red played with fire whenever they challenged him. At times, his rapid movement was too much. Stephan Lichtsteiner, Schär and Behrami were each booked for fouls on him.
Brazil might have led sooner. Neymar combined with Coutinho to cross low and when Schär got himself into a tangle, Paulinho sniffed out a close-range shooting chance. He went for the far corner, scuffing it slightly, only for Sommer to make a finger-tip save. The goalkeeper did not get the credit at the time, with Ramos awarding a goal-kick rather than a corner.
Blerim Dzemaili had lifted an early half-chance high from Xherdan Shaqiri’s pass but Switzerland could do nothing further as an attacking force before the interval. They would also breathe a sigh of relief when Thiago Silva glanced over from Neymar’s corner at the end of the half. Moments earlier, Akanji had snuffed out Jesus in a last-man duel.
The game turned sharply at the beginning of the second half and it was a poor way for Brazil to surrender the initiative. From Shaqiri’s corner, Miranda felt Zuber deliver a little shove to his back but it was not enough to throw him off balance. He had merely lost his man, misreading the flight of the ball. Zuber leapt up to head past the exposed Alisson. Brazil pleaded in vain for a VAR review. Game on.
Switzerland grew visibly and, all of a sudden, there were one or two jitters in Brazil’s ranks. Neymar, who has only just returned from a serious ankle and metatarsal injury, looked to be feeling the troublesome right foot. His fitness remains a concern, as does his tendency to freeze-frame in possession, as he looks to draw his marker into a rash move. Does his tendency unduly slow Brazil’s tempo?
Tite made midfield changes, swapping Casemiro, who had been booked, for Fernandinho and Paulinho for Renato Augusto. It did not alter Brazil’s shape or their approach.
They continued to probe, primarily through Neymar, but Switzerland, who were always likely to be obdurate, could feel the desperation and their resilience grew. Tite’s final substitution was also like-for-like. Jesus off; Firmino on.
Jesus had been central to the game’s greatest controversy. On 74 minutes Akanji put his arms around him as he ran onto a pass inside the area. Down he went but the appeals were waved away. The fall looked exaggerated but the contact was there. It was certainly risky from Akanji. He got away with it. Switzerland would do likewise with the point.
BRAZIL (4-2-3-1): Alisson, Danilo, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Marcelo; Casemiro (Fernandinho 60), Paulinho (Renato Augusto 67); Willian, Coutinho, Neymar; Gabriel Jesus (Firmino 79). Booked: Casemiro.
SWITZERLAND (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner (Lang 87), Schar, Akanji, Rodriguez; Behrami (Zakaria 71), Xhaka; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Seferovic (Embolo 80). Booked: Lichtsteiner, Schar, Behrami.
Referee: Cesar Arturo Ramos Palazuelos (Mexico).