Brazil’s Casemiro celebrates after scoring against Switzerland during the World Cup Group G football match at the Stadium 974 in Doha, Qatar, on November 28, 2022. That was the solitary goal in the game which Brazil struggled to score. Image Credit: AP

Brazil have to win big, always. Slender victories are never their style. Games must be won by good margins; there should be at least a two-goal difference. And they have to be won handsomely with jinking runs, eye-catching passes and audacious shots.

The Samba style was missing on Monday, so it didn’t feel like a Brazilian victory. Alright, the team coached by Tite picked full points from the Switzerland tie and qualified for the knockout phase. But the 1-0 win reflected a laboured display after the Swiss put forth a highly organised defence to blunt the fearsome Brazilian arsenal.

The performance doesn’t augur well for the Latin Americans since tougher tests loom. Brazil needed to make a statement to tell the world that the Selecao are in Qatar, ready to be crowned champions for the sixth time. That’s yet to come.

The win over Serbia in the first fixture is fine, although it provided only glimpses of Brazil’s true potential. The performance was expected to improve as the tournament wears on, so the sudden dip in quality was unexpected.

It’s easy to point at Neymar Junior’s absence through injury. Even without Neymar, the incredibly talented Brazilian team should have won comfortably. The Swiss encounter proved otherwise: it showed us how important Neymar is to Brazil’s success.

How badly did Brazil miss Neymar?

Neymar is their talisman, feared and respected by their rivals. So whenever he gets the ball, Neymar attracts the attention of at least two defenders, allowing at least one of his teammates to remain unmarked. With so many high-quality players, Brazil’s opponents risk heavy punishment.

The team led by Thiago Silva may be brimming with talent, but none are on the same plane as Neymar. Forget his penchant for theatrics on the field, his sublime skills and creativity can unlock the best of defences.

Creativity was lacking as Brazil huffed and puffed to a win against the Swiss. Vinicius was superb on the left flank, but the final pass was not good enough. Raphina worked well on the right, but Luis Pacueta seemed inadequate to do a Neymar-sized job. None of them could slice open the Swiss defence as effectively as Neymar.

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Danilo too was missed badly. Eder Militao took over the defensive duties on the right, but sending a centre back to do a right back’s job didn’t work. As a result, the build-up on the right suffered.

Finally, it took Casemiro’s right-footed half-volley to fetch victory after the defensive midfielder darted into the Swiss penalty box. It was part of the series of moves that stemmed from Bruno Guimaraes, the substitute who took charge of the midfield string-pulling.

A wake-up call for Brazil

This game could well be a wake-up call for the Brazilians. It showed that a team with a fantastic array of talents need not always win, or win with ease. If the Swiss were sharper on the counters, Brazil would have been on the backfoot. Brazil have to lift their game for the challenges ahead.

The knockouts are a different ball game. There are no second chances. And penalty shootouts are tricky. With or without Neymar, Brazil must be at their best to win the World Cup. And they shouldn’t forget their dance moves. What’s a Brazilian win without fancy footwork? It helps in celebrations too.