Brazil wins to set up last-16 tie against Mexico
There were no World Cup shocks in Moscow as Brazil secured a 2-0 win against Serbia to progress to the knockout stages as Group E winners.
After Germany’s surprise exit from the competition earlier on Wednesday all eyes turned to Brazil, another World Cup heavyweight with its progress not yet secured and one keen on making amends for their 7-1 World Cup semifinal thumping to the Germans four years ago on home soil.
The minimum needed from the Brazilians at the Spartak Stadium to make sure of their place in the next round was a draw.
Goals in either half from Paulinho and Thiago Silva ensured the five-time champions added three points to their tally to top the group and set up a last-16 tie against Mexico.
Serbia had their moments, but Brazil had too much creativity and firepower in the final third to put their continued participation in this competition in doubt.
The Serbians were far from overwhelmed in the first half and while the attacking triumvirate of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus occasionally threatened, they did not terrorize. Instead, defensive errors proved to be Serbia’s downfall.
In the 35th minute, a delightful Coutinho pass over the top of Serbia’s defence found Paulinho galloping through the middle and the midfielder converted from close range for his first goal of the competition.
It was a strike which eased Brazilian nerves and left Serbia needing two goals if they were to stay in the competition.
The Serbians looked dangerous on the counterattack and in the second half they had opportunities against a sometimes unconvincing Brazilian defense.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, whose overhead kick in the first half sailed over the crossbar, headed a rebounded Alisson save straight at Silva when in the six-yard box.
The striker had another opportunity in the 64th minute, but his close range downward header was caught comfortably by Brazil’s goalkeeper.
Mitrovic’s profligacy proved to be costly. Despite Serbia being in the ascendancy, Brazil doubled their advantage when Silva headed Neymar’s corner in at the near post.
The header punctured Serbia’s hopes and from there on it was a question of how many Brazil would score and were it not for Vladimir Stojkovic twice saving efforts from Neymar at point-blank range it could have been a heavier defeat for the Serbians whose World Cup is now over.
Switzerland qualified for the knockout stages of Russia 2018 as Group E runner-up, scrapping to an entertaining 2-2 draw against already-eliminated Costa Rica and will now face Sweden on Tuesday.
Despite not being assured of a place in the last 16 ahead of kick-off, the Swiss started sluggishly and had goalkeeper Yann Sommer to thank for keeping the scores level in the first half.
Without nerves and with nothing to play for, Costa Rica were playing the kind of entertaining football which saw the team reach the quarterfinals in Brazil.
Bryan Oviedo delivered an early, teasing cross into the box and Celso Borges’ header looked destined for the back of the net, but Yann Sommer got down quickly to tip it onto the post.
Xherdan Shaqiri was robbed of the ball soon after, dawdling in possession as Daniel Colindres pounced and curled a wonderful effort over Sommer but saw his strike hit the underside of the crossbar.
Sommer was again called into action minutes later, tipping Colindres’ goal bound effort around the post and out for a corner.
But for all of Costa Rica’s early pressing, it was Switzerland who would take the lead. Shaqiri’s cross into the box was headed down by Breel Embolo and Blerim Zemaili pounced on the loose ball and hammered his strike past Keylor Navas.
Undeterred by that setback late in the first half, Costa Rica pressed on and got their reward just 10 minutes after the restart.
Kendall Waston rose highest in the penalty area to expertly nod Joel Campbell’s corner past Sommer’s outstretched fingertips and spark jubilant scenes on the bench and in the stands.
That goal was Costa Rica’s first at Russia 2018 and meant that all 32 teams at this World Cup have now scored at least once.
In the end, the goal meant little but Costa Rica’s bench and the fans in the stand celebrated wildly.
As the match entered the final few minutes and appeared to be petering out into a draw, substitute Josip Drmic appeared at the far post to delightfully steer Denis Zakaria’s low cross into the far corner.
Costa Rica was then awarded two penalties in stoppage time; the first overturned correctly by VAR, the second scored by Bryan Ruiz — via the crossbar and the back of Sommer’s head.
If Los Ticos failed to reproduce the memorable moments that saw them reach the quarterfinals in Brazil four years ago, but at least they now have a small memento to take home from Russia.