World Cup: Brazil finally find moment of salvation, courtesy of a late double
Brazil 2 Costa Rica 0
Finally, at the very last, with the furies circling and a nation pleading, Brazil found their moment of salvation.
Grace came in the first minute of injury time via the toe of Philippe Coutinho, through the legs of Keylor Navas, to a cacophony of catharsis. Nil-nil at 90 minutes became 2-0 by full-time, and so Brazil's first win of the World Cup arrived like rain in the desert: not at all, never, and then all of a sudden, and all at once.
They had earned this moment. Even as the missed chances began to pile up on either side of the Costa Rica goal, even as the prospect of going winless in their first two games loomed ever larger, never did Brazil threaten to implode in the way their neighbours Argentina had done the previous evening. Instead they simply turned up the volume, turned up the heat, and went again, until finally Costa Rica's five-man defence finally buckled. Perhaps, indeed, there is more backbone and maturity in this team than previously thought.
Having seen a crucial penalty decision overturned by VAR late on, Neymar ultimately got his moment of grace too, scoring Brazil's second goal in the seventh minute of injury time. But after the litany of opportunities that had gone begging at his feet, there were others more worthy of praise here. Namely the magnificent Coutinho, again linking the midfield and attack with verve and intelligence, drifting into the spaces created by Neymar and Marcelo, combining well with both.
Gabriel Jesus was a persistent thorn up front. Right back Fagner enjoyed a sparkling World Cup debut. Coach Tite's substitutions sharpened Brazil's attacking threat without messing their structure. Late though they left it, there was plenty to like about Brazil here.
Thiago Silva said Neymar's tears at the end of Brazil's 2-0 victory over Costa Rica showed the forward knows what it means to play at a World Cup, and said the outburst would have "taken a heavy load" off his shoulders.
Neymar put his head in his hands after scoring Brazil's second goal in the 97th minute at Krestovsky Stadium in St Petersburg yesterday, and bent over in emotion for a few minutes after the final whistle.
Brazil had to wait until the 91st minute to open the scoring, Philippe Coutinho finding the net for the second time in the tournament, and Neymar's goal came after a week in which he was criticised for a below-par performance against Switzerland on his return to competitive football after a lengthy injury.
Selecao boss Tite said Neymar's show of emotions was courageous and voiced his respect for the star player.
"I didn't talk to Neymar, I only had contact with Coutinho, I did not see [him crying]. I can't evaluate it, but one thing I can tell you: the joy and pride of representing the Selecao is great," he said.
"He has the responsibility, the joy, the pressure and the courage to express this feeling. I, for example, am an emotive guy, but each one has his own characteristics. I respect the characteristics of each player."
Brazil coach Tite has said Neymar will need time to find his best form at the World Cup.
It was only Neymar's fourth game since returning from three and a half months out with a fractured metatarsal at the end of last season.
"He is resuming a process," Tite said. "He played the full match. He is a human being, he needs some time to resume his high standard. Before then there is a team that has to be strong and not depend on him."
Costa Rica coach Oscar Ramirez said there was little more his team could have done.
The Central Americans kept the score goalless until stoppage time when Philippe Coutinho broke the deadlock and then Neymar made sure of the outcome six minutes later.
"I don't know what more we could have done. Considering what I had at my disposal and what they had, it was a good effort. They are one of the best teams in the world," said Ramirez.
"We had a plan, a strategy, for how to control the opponents with and without the ball and in the first half we had enough possession and opportunities.
"We knew Brazil's strengths and we wanted to minimise them and we managed to do so for nearly 91 minutes."
Brazil: Alisson, Fagner, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Marcelo, Casemiro, Paulinho (Firmino 68), Willian (Douglas Costa 46), Coutinho, Neymar, Gabriel Jesus (Fernandinho 90).
Goals: Coutinho 90, Neymar 90.
Costa Rica: Navas, Gamboa (Calvo 75), Gonzalez, Acosta, Duarte, Oviedo, Venegas, Guzman (Tejeda 83), Borges, Ruiz, Urena (Bolanos 54).
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Holland).