WORLD CUP 2018

World Cup: Coutinho is Brazil's ace against Serbia

Defender Filipe Luis keeps the mood at training light as he playfully flicks his Brazilian team-mate Neymar's ear. The Selecao striker is the world's most expensive player but has yet to light up the World Cup and the five-time champions have been cr
Defender Filipe Luis keeps the mood at training light as he playfully flicks his Brazilian team-mate Neymar's ear. The Selecao striker is the world's most expensive player but has yet to light up the World Cup and the five-time champions have been criticised at home, with Neymar bearing the brunt of the criticism.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Selecao legends laud playmaker's displays, but Serbia hope to exploit their weaknesses

MOSCOW • With Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino yet to score, and Neymar still finding his feet, Philippe Coutinho has been the main driving force for Brazil in Russia.

Former Brazil stars Kaka and Roberto Carlos have hailed the Barcelona playmaker as Tite's men seek to secure qualification for the last 16 against Serbia today.

Brazil need only a draw to progress to the knockout stages but Coutinho is determined to make a statement.

"We need to put in a performance that not only wins the game but (also) helps to make other people fear Brazil in this tournament," he said. "We haven't talked about failure, we've just talked about how we can improve."

Tite is expected to retain the starting XI for their final Group E match in Moscow, with Coutinho offered another chance to shine.

He has scored two of Brazil's three goals so far and has covered the most ground in the team - 22.1km. Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar netted Brazil's other goal, leaving the Selecao on course to finish their group games without their No. 9 scoring for the first time since 1974.

"I love watching (Coutinho) play. He's brilliant on the ball, obviously, but he's clever off it, too, taking up good positions," former defender and 2002 winner Carlos told The Mirror. "Everyone speaks about Neymar, but Coutinho is proving that he's also a massive player for Brazil too. When all the defenders focus on Neymar, he pops up and decides matches."

  • GROUP E PERMUTATIONS

  • THE GAMES

    Serbia v Brazil

    Singtel TV Ch141 & StarHub Ch222, tomorrow, 2am

  • Switzerland v Costa Rica

    Ch142 & Ch223, tomorrow, 2am

  • BRAZIL

    Need a draw to advance. Will top the group if they win by the same margin as Switzerland can manage against Costa Rica.

  • SWITZERLAND

    Will advance by matching Serbia's result against Brazil when they face Costa Rica.

  • SERBIA

    Need to beat Brazil. A point would suffice if Costa Rica beat the Swiss by more than one goal.

  • COSTA RICA

    Eliminated.

Kaka, another member of the 2002 squad, credited Tite for ensuring that the Selecao are not over-reliant on Neymar.

"Neymar is our best player," the 36-year-old told ESPN. "And I think Tite is doing great work on managing him and trying to get him as comfortable as possible and trying to make the group stronger.

"The group is so strong, and we see Coutinho as the protagonist, the most decisive player in Brazil."

Although Brazil sit atop Group E on four points, it has not been all praise for the five-time World Cup winners. They have been criticised at home, with Neymar bearing the brunt of the opprobrium. The most expensive player in the world has yet to live up to the pre-tournament hype of his star billing.

Full-back Fagner brushed off suggestions that the pressure was having an effect on Brazil and said it was a natural reaction to their own high standards.

"We have created an expectation and that leads to pressure. We know we can get better, and that leaves us enthused because we know over the tournament you get better (with) each game," he said.

"Our opponents prepare well to neutralise us, but I think as games go on we will create chances either with plays from the professor (coach Tite) or through our own improvisations."

 

For Serbia, who will want to be masters of their own fate, a win would guarantee their progress, although a draw could see them through if the Swiss are beaten by Costa Rica by more than one goal in the other group game.

Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic said: "We are in a situation where we need to win against Brazil and we will focus and do whatever we can to win. Nothing is impossible in life. We respect their status as favourites to win but they have some weaknesses and we will try to exploit them."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2018, with the headline 'Coutinho is Brazil's ace'. Print Edition | Subscribe