Coutinho steps up for Brazil and out of Neymar’s shadow

Two games into the World Cup campaign that they entered as favourites, Brazil are starting to find their rhythm. And, while it took Neymar until the very last kick to get his own all-singing, all-dancing show on the road, Tite’s men had at least been able to rely on Philippe Coutinho.

Neymar, after weeks/months/years of scrutiny, after two games of rough treatment from his markers, and after flattering to deceive in Russia so far, finally made a positive mark in the 97th minute, with a goal which, just moments later, provoked floods of tears as he sank to his knees on the Saint Petersburg pitch after the 2-0 win over Costa Rica.

It had been a trying afternoon for the Paris Saint-Germain star up until that point, and had it not been for Coutinho the headlines would have been entirely different.

Coutinho, for the second time in two games, came up with the goal Brazil needed. He was their best player in the disappointing draw with Switzerland, the first time Brazil have not won their first game at a World Cup since 1978, and he was there again on Friday, with his side staring down the barrel of another frustrating stalemate.

It was the Barcelona man who charged into the box in the 91st minute to meet Gabriel Jesus’ knock-down, poking the ball through the legs of Keylor Navas, who had hitherto produced yet another World Cup masterclass.

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It was a goal that could be described these days as ‘a bench emptier’. The Brazil substitutes and coaching staff leapt from their seats and charged up the touchline to celebrate with their hero, just like Iran did in this stadium one week ago, when they snatched a last-minute win over Morocco.

Yet Brazil are not Iran, they are the favourites for this tournament, and their celebrations were born more out of relief than the sheer joy of the Iranians.

Indeed, Tite, the highly-regarded coach who has got this team into shape, was so overcome by it all he ended up falling face-first into the ground as he attempted to keep pace with his younger, fitter countrymen.

For Tite the goal provided vindication. The coach had made shrewd changes to spark Brazil into life after an underwhelming first half, but for so long it looked as though they would have had to make do with a goalless draw.

The nature of the World Cup dictates that such a result would not have been seen favourably, but make no mistake: it was clear for much of the second half that Brazil deserved to win this match.

Tite’s decision to replace the poor Willian with Douglas Costa at half-time was wise, and also showed that he knew he could not afford to wait.

Costa immediately looked bright and his side came close to breaking the deadlock when Gabriel Jesus headed against the bar and then, somehow, Coutinho’s shot was narrowly deflected wide.

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The blue shirts sensed that a goal was a matter of time but as they struggled to put the ball in the net they turned to another quality back-up, Roberto Firmino. The Liverpool man, who has been battling with Jesus for a starting berth, was pushed on just behind his Premier League team-mate, with midfielder Paulinho making way. With Costa Rica digging in, this was another clever, and brave, substitution by Tite.

Yet somehow, despite the increased energy in the side and a raft of chances created, it seemed it would not be enough.

Neymar, first and foremost, would have been the villain of the piece. He was criticised for his nomadic, overly flash performance against Switzerland but here he was far more involved – and usually not for the better.

He forced a fine save from Navas, though had he kept his shot down he would have given his side the lead. Later on he found himself with space to burst into but decided to take his shot early, from the edge of the box, and curled a powerful effort just wide. It would have looked spectacular had it gone in, but it didn’t, and that looked set to sum up his performance.

In fact, what had looked to sum up his performance was the penalty he thought he had won. After receiving the ball inside the area, close to Navas’ goal, he checked back onto his right foot, losing the momentum of the attack. The referee initially awarded a penalty, judging that the forward had been pulled, but after consulting with his colleagues in the VAR team he reversed his decision. Rightly, too; after making a mess of another good chance Neymar had gone to ground too easily.

A few minutes later he was booked for petulantly slamming the ball into the ground after committing a foul. Coutinho got a yellow too, for airing his displeasure at his mate’s booking.

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But 10 minutes later their fortunes changed. Coutinho, the man brought to Camp Nou with much of the money Barca received for Neymar, proved yet again that he is the ace up Tite’s sleeve.

Tite has only used the former Liverpool man in the midfield three in the past couple of weeks, and on this evidence, and that of his first few months in Catalunya, it is a role that suits him.

Coutinho regularly struggled to perform consistently at Anfield, his stunning goals often papering over the cracks of patchy performances against England’s bigger clubs – and some of the medium-sized ones, too.

But since joining Barca, and particularly in Russia, he is showing that he is the man for the big moment.

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His goal forced Costa Rica forwards, finally, and liberated Brazil. Neymar certainly seemed unburdened – he produced a textbook rainbow flick over his marker’s head down in the corner, as if all of his troubles had disappeared.

They certainly did moments later, when the impressive Douglas Costa got in behind the defence and provide the perfect cross. Neymar, at last, was there to make the difference.

Or at least  a difference. He will not have to worry about too many negative reviews tonight, as Brazil picked exactly the right moment to kick their World Cup into gear. But it will not be forgotten that it was Coutinho who did it.

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What results do Argentina need to progress at the World Cup?

Jaws dropped when Willy Caballero gifted Ante Rebic a free shot at goal as Argentina faced Croatia at the World Cup.

It took 53 minutes for the deadlock to be broken, but the South American side paid for their slapdash defending as Rebic’s strike rippled the net.

From there it was all Zlatko Dalic’s side, with Luka Modric thumping home a thunderous strike to make it two before Ivan Rakitic coolly slotted home to put the result beyond doubt.

But for all of Argentina’s faults fans do not want to see one of the greatest footballers of all time in Lionel Messi heading home so soon.

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They’ll need some help from other results, however, starting with Nigeria vs Iceland. 

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So what needs to happen for Argentina to progress?

  • Firstly, Iceland need to either draw or lose to Nigeria.
  • Secondly, Croatia need to then beat or draw with Iceland.
  • Thirdly, Argentina need to win their last match, against Nigeria.

There is still a small chance that the Albiceleste can progress if Iceland beat Nigeria, but Argentina would still need to beat Nigeria themselves and see Iceland lose to Croatia – in this scenario it would go to goal difference.

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Barca target Lenglet yet to decide future

Clement Lenglet is yet to make a decision regarding his future despite appearing on the verge of completing a move to Barcelona, his agent has said.

Defender Lenglet has gained many admirers since joining Sevilla from Nancy in January 2017, quickly securing a first-team role under Jorge Sampaoli and remaining a key figure last season, playing 35 times – more than any of his team-mates – in La Liga.

Reports of Barca’s interest were prominent for much of the campaign, especially in the wake of the 23-year-old’s stellar performance against Manchester United in the Champions League, and there have even been claims the Catalan club already have an agreement with the centre-back.

Goal revealed earlier in June that the Spanish champions were close to concluding a deal for Lenglet, however, but that nothing had been decided as yet.

Sevilla head coach Pablo Machin and director of football Joaquin Caparros had even offered to make Frenchman the highest paid player on the team to fend off interest from Barca, but again no agreement could be reached between the parties.

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His exit from the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan has long since appeared almost certain, but agent Gregory Dakad told ABC: “I know you’re talking about a lot of things, but Lenglet has not yet made a decision.

“He is listening, analysing… although I insist that it cannot be said that he will not be at Sevilla next season.”

Speaking on Thursday, Caparros said the club had received no contact from Barcelona.

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“Nothing has come to us,” he commented. 

“Every time there has been interest from Barcelona in a player of ours, which has been many times in recent years, there has been a call from president to president, and a call regarding Lenglet has not occurred.”

Behind the scenes, however, Goal understands that the Rojiblancos are looking for a replacement for Lenglet, with Florian Lejeune of Newcastle and Gianmarco Ferrari of Sampdoria on their shortlist.

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Germany v Sweden Betting Tips: Latest odds, team news, preview and predictions

Germany will be desperate to bounce back from their shock defeat against Mexico when they take on Sweden in Sochi on Saturday.

The World Cup holders looked completely out of sorts against a motivated Mexican side, who could easily have won by a more convincing scoreline.

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Latest Odds

However, having not lost any of the previous 11 encounters with this opposition, they are 4/9 (1.44) favourites with dabblebet to return to winning ways at the first attempt.

Janne Andersson’s team secured a narrow 1-0 victory over South Korea in their opener, but are 13/2 (7.50) outsiders to book their place in the last 16 by coming out on top here.

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Two of the last three meetings between this pair have resulted in draws, and you can get odds of 7/2 (4.50) on them cancelling each other out once again.

Team News

Joachim Low is likely to make changes after the disappointing opening performance, with Marco Reus, Ilkay Gundogan and Jonas Hector all candidates for a start.

Having missed the opener due to illness, Victor Lindelof could replace Pontus Jansson at the heart of the Blue-Yellow defence.

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Solid Sweden

Although undoubtedly concerned by the careless defending that allowed Mexico numerous clear chances, Low should be equally unhappy about his team’s failure to really test the opposition goalkeeper.

With just six goals to their name in seven matches, Germany could now be in for a frustrating 90 minutes against an opposition defence that has only conceded four times in nine fixtures.

Predictions

Having scored just once in four matches themselves and with no reason to take any chances after their opening win, odds of 10/11 (1.95) seem generous on a solid Swedish side that kept Italy at bay in the play-offs ensuring under 2.5 goals.

Betting Banner - Best BetUnder 2.5 goals at 10/11 (1.91) for a 2pt stake with dabblebet

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‘Germany perform best under pressure’ – Klose confident of World Cup success despite Mexico loss

Germany legend Miroslav Klose is confident about his nation’s chances of overcoming Sweden on Saturday, stating his belief that Joachim Low’s side perform best under pressure.

Low’s men suffered defeat in their opening match against Mexico and risk becoming the third world champions in a row to exit at the group stages if results on Saturday go against them.

Victory for Sweden against Germany, accompanied by a Mexico win over South Korea earlier in the day, would send Die Mannschaft on an early flight back to Berlin.

Defeat to Mexico prompted criticism of the side, but Klose, the all-time leading scorer at the World Cup with 16 goals, is confident ahead of the match.

“We play the best games under pressure. That’s why, as far as Saturday is concerned, I’m very positive,” he told Tz .

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Klose is also not interested in making excuses for the display against Mexico, as he added: “The grass too high, the referee bad, the sun too strong – I do not like that. 

“I have always gone ahead and tried to urge the others along. We have people who have to deliver now and we have the character to come first.”

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