This is the difference between pretenders and contenders.
Unlike Argentina’s 3-0 capitulation against Croatia on Thursday, Brazil never stopped trying and their fighting spirit was rewarded with two stoppage-time goals from Philippe Coutinho and Neymar which gave them a 2-0 Group E win over Costa Rica at the Saint Petersburg Stadium yesterday.
“It was very emotional,” Coutinho told Brazil’s TV Globo.
“The game was very difficult. We were looking to shoot from outside the area. In the end, we were rewarded for our performance as a group. Everybody ran and gave their all. We deserved the win.”
For 90 minutes, the underdogs offered no attacking threat in an ultra-defensive 5-4-1, but had an answer for everything the five-time world champions Brazil threw at them. Mind you, Costa Rica are hardly Croatia.
Whereas the European side could boast in their first XI nine famous footballers who play in the big four leagues, Los Ticos have mostly journeyman from their unbeaten run into the quarter-finals four years ago. Celtic right-back Cristian Gamboa, who played just two league games last season, also had Neymar in his pocket for most of regulation time.
Their one true star, Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas, lived up to his billing and made eight saves.
Even when Gamboa slipped up and Navas was beaten, Neymar bent wide in the 72nd minute, while Gabriel Jesus struck the bar 15 minutes earlier.
Brazil then thought they had a penalty in the 78th minute for Giancarlo Gonzalez’s tug on Neymar, only for the referee to overturn his decision after consulting the video assistant referee (VAR).
Lesser teams would have folded, but Brazil did not win five world titles by being mentally weak.
Neymar, entertaining with his sombrero and rainbow flicks but not the effective attacker he can be, let his frustrations over Costa Rica’s play-acting get to him and was booked for dissent.
But such is Brazil’s depth that coach Tite could call on Douglas Costa and Roberto Firmino from the bench.