Brazil: World Cup Favorites Build Momentum with Win over Serbia

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Brazil: World Cup Favorites Build Momentum with Win over Serbia

On the day reigning champions Germany crashed out of the World Cup, tournament favourites Brazil took their place in the knockout stages with a 2-0 win over Serbia.

Paulinho and Thiago Silva were on target in Moscow as Brazil secured top spot in Group E, setting up a last-16 tie with Group F runners-up Mexico in Samara on Monday.

Tite's side began the tournament with an underwhelming 1-1 draw against Switzerland, but are they gathering momentum at the right time? We look at three key talking points from the game.

The Neymar show

Neymar was criticised for some of his off-the-ball antics in Brazil's 2-0 win over Costa Rica, repeatedly berating the referee and bizarrely collapsing in tears at the final whistle, but he kept his cool against Serbia and allowed his football to do the talking.

There was no goal to add to his late strike in Saint Petersburg, but Neymar was at the heart of practically every Brazil attack, setting the tone in just the second minute of the game when he charged through Serbia's midfield and laid on a chance for Philippe Coutinho.

That early run was the first of nine dribbles completed by Neymar over the course of the game, and he also had more touches (119) than any other player on the pitch. He created four scoring opportunities in total, including the corner from which Thiago Silva doubled Brazil's lead.

Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville said Neymar was playing "20 yards too deep" in his half-time analysis on ITV, but Neymar pushed further forward after that. His total of seven shots on goal underlined his desire to make his own mark on the tournament. By the end of the game, he had become the first Brazilian player to have as many as 16 touches in the opposition box since Jairzinho in 1966.

Neymar's goal tally should be higher, but three games in, the 26-year-old has had the most shots and created the most chances in the tournament. Only Lionel Messi has completed more dribbles. Love him or loathe him, Neymar will be absolutely integral to Brazil's prospects of going all the way in Russia.

Midfield balance

Neymar's supporting cast aren't bad, either. Coutinho followed up his goalscoring performances against Switzerland and Costa Rica with another fine showing on Wednesday night. His perfectly-weighted pass over Serbia's defence for Brazil's opener was reminiscent of Ever Banega's for Argentina a night earlier, and it was cleverly finished off by his Barcelona team-mate Paulinho.

The former Tottenham man has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years, and his powerful running from midfield gives Brazil an extra dimension. It was evident for the goal and again in first-half stoppage time, when he went rampaging clear on the left-hand side of Serbia's box and fired a dangerous cross into the six-yard box.

Coutinho and Paulinho get their attacking licence from Casemiro. The Real Madrid man, described as the best defensive midfielder in the world by Gilberto Silva before the tournament, has a big job at the base of Brazil's midfield, but he carried out his duties effectively against Serbia, making more tackles (six) than any other player on the pitch.

Of course, Brazil can also call on Fernandinho for added steel. The Manchester City man replaced Paulinho midway through the second half against Serbia, shoring up the midfield and helping Tite's side defend their lead in the closing stages. It's a tactical switch which may be required in the knockout stages, too.

Defensive concerns?

Brazil's attacking play was scintillating at times, but their World Cup rivals will have noted the problems Serbia caused them in a defensive sense. Tite's side finished off their group stage campaign with a second consecutive clean sheet, but they were fortunate not to concede in the second half.

The best chances fell to Aleksandar Mitrovic, whose physical presence and aerial strength unsettled Brazil centre-backs Thiago Silva and Miranda. He missed a glorious chance in the 61st minute, stabbing the ball against a yellow-shirted defender from six yards out after Alisson failed to deal with a cross, and he had another opportunity just a few minutes later, heading straight at the Brazil goalkeeper after rising above full-back Fagner.

Brazil's vulnerability from crosses gives Tite something to work on before they continue their World Cup campaign against Mexico next week, and the Brazil manager will also hope to welcome Marcelo back into his back four. The left-back was forced off in the opening exchanges with a back problem. His energy will be needed against Mexico's fleet-footed forwards.

Source: Sky News