As Brazil handily dominated Serbia in front of a frenzied audience, fans can think of a lot of words to describe La Selecao. You can call them sensational, explosive; or even legendary. Yet the most accurate? Bees.
The players, outfitted in their traditional bright yellow Nike jerseys, swarmed a responseless Serbian side that looked doomed from the side. Relentless and unforgiving, they stung Serbia with some dangerous long-range shots that slammed against the post.
But the leader of Brazil’s offensive hive, Richarlison, was the one that killed Serbia. His rebound to open the scoring and his marvelous bicycle kick to end it earned him praise from anyone who watched the game. The dominant performance is a welcome change from their woeful 2018 campaign.
Richarlison’s brace beats Serbia
It looked like Brazil would dominate from the start. Serbia sat in a low block, waiting for counter-attacks, but for the most part, it did not work. Vinicius nearly got the ball inside the six, but Torino stopper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic pushed the ball away.
Other opportunities came. Milinkovic-Savic met Raphinha’s chip right after halftime with a superb save, and he continued to beat back the incoming wave of Brazilian attackers. Yet Brazil banged shot after shot either into the inviting hands of the keeper or onto the crossbar.
Yet it changed in the 62nd minute. Neymar wove between a horde of Serbian defenders in the box, bobbing and dipping before passing the ball to Vinicius. Yet again, Milinkovic-Savic saved his shot, but he could not stop Richarlison’s powerful rebound. Brazil 1, Serbia 0.
Richarlison continued his masterclass in the 73rd minute when he met a rising ball ready to be blasted. He thrust himself upwards with his left foot, spun through the air, and struck the ball with his right. Not only was his finish acrobatic, his accuracy is unmatched. His scissor kick rippled through the bottom left corner, out of reach for Milinkovic-Savic.
After a brief second of shock, the fans roared with excitement at Richarlison’s screamer. He celebrated his teammates and coaches at the touchline as Serbia looked on with dread. Brazil 2, Serbia 0.
The game ended with more of the same. Casemiro hit the inside of the post from outside the box, but could not steer the ball beyond the goal line. Brazil ended the match with 22 total shots and 59% possession; against a top-25 team, no less. They look as scary as ever. A deep run to the finals looks likelier by the day.
Brazil looks comfortable on the world’s biggest stage
Brazil has a plethora of attacking talent it can call upon, unlike many nations at this World Cup. With La Liga rivals Raphinha and Vinicius on both flanks, and Neymar and Richarlison in the middle, Switzerland and Cameroon will find it very hard to avoid conceding.
But that could change going into a Group G clash with Cameroon.
Neymar, the heart of Brazil’s attack, suffered an ankle sprain late in the game against Serbia.
The injury came after Serbia fouled him nine times; the most out of any other player at the World Cup. Beaten by a physical Serbian defense and exhausted after commanding Brazil’s hungry attack, he had to sub off.
“You can be sure: Neymar will play in the World Cup. You can be absolutely sure of this, Neymar will play in the World Cup!” Tite exclaimed in a post-match press conference. Yet Tite’s overconfident statement and Neymar’s refusal to talk about his injury means he could miss the match against Cameroon, if not the entirety of the group stage.
Neymar’s involvement is unparalleled. He touched the ball 81 times, the second-most among forwards so far. Losing him would be disastrous, especially because Tite would have to tweak his formation so that he does not need an attacking midfielder. Is Brazil set to play in a 4-3-3 on Monday?
Everywhere else, Brazil looks set. Brazil is led on defense by Alex Sandro, who had a whopping 103 touches (eighth so far in the World Cup). Brazil’s defense pounced on Serbia’s mistakes, and all four of Sandro, Marquinhos, Danilo, and Thiago Silva had an excellent match.
So did the midfield pairing of Lucas Paqueta and Casemiro. The two won eleven total duels and were the main reason why Serbia could not reach the final third. Tite would not make a mistake by sticking with the Serbia lineup and replacing Neymar with a traditional center midfielder.
No Vlahovic or Jovic in Serbia’s starting squad
Surprisingly, neither Juventus attacker Dusan Vlahovic nor Fiorentina’s Luka Jovic got a start against Brazil. Serbia manager Dragan Stojkovic instead elected to start Fulham star Aleksandar Mitrovic as the sole striker and Ajax’s Dusan Tadic behind him as the only midfielder.
Vlahovic’s absence from the starting eleven is especially surprising. He scored six goals and assisted once in 10 Serie A games for Juventus before missing six games due to an adductor problem. Despite missing a big chunk of the club season, Vlahovic returned for Serbia’s friendly against Bahrain, where he scored once and assisted twice.
The Juventus forward eventually came into the match in the 66th minute as a left midfielder; a position he has virtually no experience in. Predictably, he did not have a big impact on the match, only touching the ball 10 times and losing multiple showdowns on the left flank with Rapinha and Danilo.
Jovic’s omission is more understandable. The Fiorentina striker has just three goals in fourteen Serie A appearances, and he’s been out of Stojkovic’s good graces for some time. But despite scoring in the friendly with Bahrain, he found himself on the bench for the full 90 minutes.
It will be tough for Vlahovic and Jovic to break into the starting lineup thanks to the conservative formations Serbia likes playing. They played a 3-5-1-1 against Brazil, a 3-4-2-1 against Bahrain, and even busted out a 3-5-2 against Norway.
Mitrovic is the first-choice striker for Serbia, something that neither can challenge for the foreseeable future. If Serbia lines up in a more aggressive position, Vlahovic might get a starting spot alongside Mitrovic, and Jovic might get some playing time. But the future is cloudy for Serbia’s three strikers.
Photo credit: IMAGO / Fotoarena
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