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BRAZIL ended their run of three World Cup finals matches without a win to move to the top of Group E today with a fortunate win in St Petersburg over Costa Rica, who were dumped out of the tournament after conceding two goals in injury time.
After losing their first game to Serbia, Costa Rica created the first clear opportunity of the match in the 13th minute when right back Christian Gamboa surged down the flank and pulled the ball back for the onrushing Celso Borges who side-footed wide of Alisson’s goal.
Brazil, for all their possession, made few chances until midway through the half when Philippe Coutinho played the ball over the Costa Rican back line for Neymar, but a loose first touch allowed Keylor Navas to come out and block his shot.
Brazil came out flying in the second half, with Navas bravely saving in front of Neymar at the end of a quick interchange of passes, Gabriel Jesus heading against the bar from Fagner’s cross and Celso Borges blocking Coutinho’s shot from in front of his keeper. Navas then acrobatically tipped over Neymar’s shot following Paulinho’s cutback.
The game’s most controversial moment came in the 78th minute when substitute Douglas Costa powered through, Jesus back-heeled to Neymar who cut inside and fell under the challenge of Giancarlo Gonzalez.
A penalty was initially awarded by referee Bjorn Kuipers but the decision was correctly overturned following a VAR review. Therefore, it took until the 91st minute for Brazil to make the breakthrough. Marcelo crossed for fellow substitute Roberto Firmino to head down, Jesus controlled the ball and the onrushing Coutinho slipped the ball through Navas’s legs.
With Costa Rica pushing for an unlikely equaliser, Neymar touched home a scarcely deserved second on the break from Douglas Costa’s cross in the 97th minute.
Costa Rica’s coach Oscar Ramirez believed the substitutions of his Brazilian counterpart Tite were pivotal. “I do think the changes Brazil made a difference. He put in players who have as many skills as their teammates but were not as tired. That makes things very difficult for us.”
Coutinho believed the two late goals were just reward for his teammates’ ability to handle the pressure of wearing the Brazil shirt. “We know the responsibility is huge when you are playing for the national team. You have to be mentally strong from the beginning till the end. We fought to the end and we were rewarded with the win.”
Tite believed Neymar should have been awarded a penalty but felt the decision made no difference in the end. “If I was the referee, I wouldn’t go back on my decision, but I respect that because it’s subject to interpretation. The other thing is we don’t need referees to win the game, we just wanted to be fair.”
He preferred to dwell on the tactical substitutions he made which helped win the game. “The first half was nervous, it was difficult. We played a beautiful second half. That’s the advantage of having those replacements.”
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