Brazil mired in doubt for decisive clash against Serbia

Brazil's Philippe Coutinho practices during a training session, in Sochi, Russia, Sunday, June 24, 2018. Brazil will face Serbia on June 27 in the group E for the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Already smarting after struggling through its opening two World Cup matches, Brazil needs to improve.

Luckily, the five-time champions head into their final group match against Serbia at Spartak Stadium in Moscow on Wednesday knowing a draw is enough to advance to the round of 16.

Brazil opened the tournament with a 1-1 draw against Switzerland, and then got two injury-time goals to pull out a 2-0 victory over Costa Rica.

That second match was a rollercoaster, and Neymar finished it by dropping to his knees and sobbing on the field at the end. He has since defended the tears, which were of both relief and frustration, and insisted he is determined to lead Brazil to success at this year’s World Cup.

But anything short of a strong outing against Serbia could put the squad on edge. Brazil has been disappointed with its play so far, and Neymar and Philippe Coutinho already have yellow cards.

Injuries are also an issue. Douglas Costa, who came on after the break against Costa Rica and made Brazil play more aggressive, has a right thigh injury and won’t play. Willian could start instead.

Paulinho has also not been his strong self and the midfielder could lose his place in the starting lineup.

Brazil coach Tite didn’t offer many answers. His options include midfielders Fernandinho and Renato Augusto, but he could play strikers Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino together. If he went with that lineup, Coutinho would replace Paulinho.

Brazil has also recently trained with defender Marquinhos as a right back because starter Danilo is injured and replacement Fagner has little international experience.

TARGET MAN

Coutinho scored two of Brazil’s three goals in the tournament, while Neymar has only scored once.

Over the last 10 matches, Coutinho has outplayed Neymar. The Barcelona midfielder has scored nine goals in the last 10 matches, more than Neymar’s five.

Coutinho has also outscored Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku and Egypt forward Mohamed Salah.

SERBIAN MIRACLE

Serbian morale was affected by a 2-1 loss to Switzerland, and midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic knows the squad has a tough match against Brazil.

”Yes, we definitely need a miracle. That is what can make us beat Brazil and get through to the next stage,” he said. ”I always say that those that believe in miracles can make them happen. We are Serbian, nothing is impossible. With a bit of luck, we can produce a miracle.”

Serbia beat Costa Rica 1-0 in its opening game, and Milinkovic-Savic said Brazil has shortcomings in its defense.

”Costa Rica and Switzerland showed they could face Brazil,” Milinkovic-Savic said. ”I believe that, too, and I believe that we will knock them down.”

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