Philippe Coutinho, Neymar Late Goals Power Brazil to Win vs. Costa Rica

Christopher Simpson@@CJSimpsonBRFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2018

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JUNE 22:  Philippe Coutinho of Brazil scores his team's first goal  during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group E match between Brazil and Costa Rica at Saint Petersburg Stadium on June 22, 2018 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
Francois Nel/Getty Images

Injury-time goals from Philippe Coutinho and Neymar snatched a 2-0 win for Brazil over Costa Rica at the Saint Petersburg Stadium on Friday, with the latter out of the 2018 World Cup as a result.

It looked as though Brazil would be frustrated by an excellent performance from Keylor Navas, but Coutinho stabbed home Roberto Firmino's knockdown in the 91st minute to hand the Selecao three points.

Six minutes later, Douglas Costa squared for Neymar to volley home from close range.

Earlier, Neymar had a second-half penalty overturned on review by the video assistant referee. The forward looked to have been pulled down by Giancarlo Gonzalez, but it was adjudged there was not enough contact from the defender.

                                

Refs Must Crack Down on Attacks Against Neymar

The officials have been fairly lenient in Russia so far, but perhaps too much so, particularly when it comes to Neymar.

The Paris Saint-Germain star spent most of Brazil's 1-1 draw with Switzerland being roughed up by their players, and while Stephan Lichtsteiner, Fabian Schar and Valon Behrami were all eventually booked for fouls on him, it might have curbed their cynical approach if the referee had brought the yellow cards out sooner.

It quickly became apparent Costa Rica were looking to employ a similar strategy in the early stages of Friday's clash:

Football journalist Rik Sharma and Opta's Duncan Alexander provided some further context:

Of course, Neymar does not always help himself with his theatrics. Former Liverpool star John Arne Riise is tired of seeing Neymar on the floor:

Many will have little sympathy for the forward because of his reputation for going down too easily, but it seems the referees in Russia are yet to strike the right balance with teams getting overly physical with an opponent's star player.

                                            

Late Goals Don't Disguise Brazil's Need to Change it Up

With a left flank comprised of Marcelo, Philippe Coutinho and Neymar, it's of little surprise Brazil spend much of their time attacking down that side of the pitch.

The trio were effective in creating opportunities for the team, too:

Their quality is undeniable, and it would be unwise of the Selecao not to make the most of them, but with Dani Alves missing on the right, there's little balance to the side.

It will be clear to any side facing Brazil to concentrate their defensive efforts on the Selecao's left flank, and by repeatedly attacking down there, it makes them predictable and largely reliant on individual moments of skill.

Costa showed the value of switching it up when he replaced Willian on the right at half-time, and the team consequently became much more threatening as an attacking unit.

The only reason they didn't take the lead earlier was due to a combination of Navas and the woodwork:

Goal enjoyed the goalkeeper's performance:

Continuing to switch things up might also help Brazil defensively. Costa Rica had a gilt-edged chance to take the lead early on when they found space behind the left-sided trio:

As football writer Jack Lang noted, those warning signs were present in Brazil's warm-up matches ahead of the tournament:

As an attacking full-back, Marcelo always runs the risk of leaving space in behind, but by mixing things up, Brazil can ensure they're not overly reliant or vulnerable on that side.

                             

Firmino Should Start Ahead of Jesus

Brazil should give Firmino the chance to start ahead of Gabriel Jesus in the next game.

Jesus is an excellent player, but he has been fairly ineffectual in two matches now, and Firmino brings plenty to the table.

The Liverpool player's work rate and pressing in the final third are exceptional, and he offers a great deal in terms of his link-play, too.

Football writers Joel Rabinowitz and Leanne Prescott called for his introduction:

Brazil improved against Switzerland following his introduction into that match, and he provided the knockdown for Coutinho's opener here—Brazil should give him a chance against Serbia to show what he can do ahead of the knockout phase.

                                                

What's Next

Brazil take on Serbia in their final group match on Wednesday, while Costa Rica will do the same against Switzerland, with both games kicking off at 9 p.m. local time (7 p.m. BST, 2 p.m. ET). 

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