The first round of the FIFA World Cup 2018 group stage has taught all one thing, you cannot take any team for granted and best of all, never underestimate any nation. Brazil, who are one of the favourites coming into the World Cup, were handed a point after they drew against a valiant Switzerland 1-1 in the first round.
However, Brazil's problems keep increasing day by day as their star player Neymar Jr was seen limping out of a practice session due to discomfort in his right ankle. The injury which he suffered last year is acting up once again and may be dropped for the next match, Costa Rica.
Though he is expected to be fit for the upcoming World Cup match against Costa Rica, the question is will he be 100 per cent fit for the fixture. In that scenario, all the responsibilities will be fall on the shoulder of Brazil's midfield maestro Philippe Coutinho, who scored the lone goal for Brazil in their opening match of the tournament. Coutinho is playing his first world cup and produces a magical moment in his debut world cup match when he scored a beautiful curler from outside the box. Coutinho is a kind of midfielder who has the ability to score like wingers as he had done it with his club Barcelona in the previous season.
The way Neymar played against the Swiss side it clearly shows that he needs some more time to get 100 per cent fitness level. While on the other hand, the inexperience of strike Gabriel Jesus will build more pressure on the Barcelona midfielder.
"We have a lot of great players in the national team and each one of them has his own responsibility," Coutinho said. "If everyone does his job, then the team grows and plays well. We can have one player being the protagonist in one game, then another in the next one, but the most important thing is the group."
On Tuesday, Neymar limped out of practice because of pain in his right ankle. The Brazilian soccer confederation said it wasn't a serious injury and Neymar would be back in practice on Wednesday, but doubts about his fitness only increased.
Brazil coach Tite said before the tournament started that Neymar wouldn't likely be fully fit until the third match of the group stage because of the foot injury that sidelined him for about three months earlier this year.
There were expectations he could still carry Brazil despite the ongoing recovery, but his performance in the 1-1 draw against the Swiss disappointed. He was heavily marked and had little space to create chances for his teammates, being fouled 10 times during the game in Rostov-on-Don. The Paris Saint-Germain player was limping when he talked to reporters after the match.
"Neymar is one of the best players in the world and it's a great plus to have him in the team," Coutinho said. "When he is on the field he helps us a lot. He is a very important player for us."
But the spotlight will also be on Coutinho, whose performance against Switzerland contrasted with Neymar's lackluster showing.
A key to Coutinho's good performances with Brazil has been Barcelona teammate Paulinho, the defensive midfielder who has been responsible for giving the playmaker more freedom to help Neymar and the other forwards.
"I stay back a little bit more so Coutinho can move forward and take advantage of the great quality that he has up front," Paulinho said.
If Neymar struggles again against Costa Rica in St. Petersburg, another good showing by Coutinho will be crucial for Brazil. Anything but victory could be trouble for the "Selecao."
The draw against Switzerland, which ended Brazil's nine-match winning streak in World Cup openers, left the national team two points behind Group E leader Serbia, which defeated Costa Rica 1-0. Brazil's final game will be against Serbia on June 27 in Nizhny Novgorod.
(With AP Inputs)