Dubai: Brazil and Switzerland clearly didn’t read the memo. After Cameroon and Serbia served up a six-goal thriller and a further five were scored in the match between South Korea and Ghana, everybody expected another hatful when the tournament favourites and five-time world champions took to the field. But they produced just one - and that too 10 minutes from the end.
Brazil looked like a team missing a player with that spark and ability to unlock an organised defence sitting deep and inviting you to break them down. You know, a player like Neymar. The Paris Saint-Germain star would have made a huge difference but following his injury in the first match against Serbia, he had to sit this one out. He will also be missing for the final group game against Cameroon and the South Americans might have been feeling a tad worried had they drawn here because they looked distinctly average without him.
Slow and laboured
This wasn’t how I expected Brazil to play, I thought they would come flying out of the traps but they looked slow and laboured. They huffed and puffed but lacked that defence-splitting quality at the top end that Neymar is so good at providing. Switzerland did a good job in nullifying their front three but the first half was a bore.
Richarlison was coming into the match in form scoring nine goals in his last seven appearances for Brazil while for Switzerland Breel Embolo had netted in three of his last four matches. But both struggled to get into the game as both defences stood firm.
We know Brazil have huge respect for the Swiss whom they met at the last World Cup in Russia and were held to a 1-1 draw. You could see they were more concerned about them than they were about the Serbians.
But in the first 45 Switzerland showed very little ambition and played a dangerous game by sitting in because with the talent the Brazilians have in their side they were always going to create chances. And, unsurprisingly, one fell to Vinicius Jr but he shot wide when he should have done better. That was the only incident of interest in the first half. In fact the most exciting moment came when the lights in Stadium 974 went out. And it said everything where in the World Cup of injury time, just one minute was added on at the end of the first period.
The Swiss began to fancy it a bit more in the second 45 but it was Vinicius Jr who thought he had put Brazil in front, however, Richarlison was just offside as the move began and it was chalked off
There had already been five goalless draws in Qatar and the record for a World Cup is seven. We seemed destined for another until Casemiro sent a rocket of a half-volley into the back of the net in the 80th minute. It took a slight deflection off Manuel Akanji on the way in but when your defensive midfielder can score a goal like that you know your squad is top class.
So, England couldn’t do it. Nor could Argentina, Spain or Germany. Only France and now Brazil have managed to pick up six points from two games and book their place in the World Cup last 16 with a game to spare.
But on this evidence, Brazil will need to improve drastically if they are to win the tournament for a sixth time.