Moscow: The samba is a famous Latin American style of dancing and the Brazilian football teams have always been identified with it for the lazy, languid yet fluid movement they bring to the game. When Brazil play, the world watches, such is their style – pleasing and refreshing to the eye. They did that exactly Wednesday night against Serbia in their World Cup Group E match against Serbia winning comfortably by a 2-0 margin to set up a pre-quarterfinal clash against Mexico.
The Selecao scored twice through Paulinho and Thiago Silva, missed many more and had superstar Neymar brought his shooting boots on to the pitch, he could have ended the match with a hat-trick. But even then the fans went home happy, because such is the free-flowing style of their play that the heart just can’t resist beating to the samba beats. There was one point when they had the game in their pockets and to slow down the pace, the Brazilian players played 92 passes among them – short, intricate yet artistic and simple, a pleasure to the eyes.
Paulinho put Brazil ahead with a superb dinked finish on 36 minutes before Neymar swung in a cross for Thiago Silva to header the Selecao’s second goal with 22 minutes left in the game.
After the tearful emotion of Saint Petersburg, Neymar cut a more joyful figure after this win, blowing kisses to the crowd as the five-time champions celebrated.
But then so far the star of this Brazil team has not been Neymar, but Philippe Coutinho. Against Serbia he was Brazil’s creative fulcrum, setting up the first goal with a sublime long ball for Paulinho to touch over the onrushing Serbian goalkeeper.
In the pre-match build-up Brazil coach Tite said Neymar alone cannot ‘shoulder the responsibility’ for his team’s World Cup hopes. However, the 26-year-old seemed content to carry Brazil’s attack, motoring through Serbia’s midfield and crashing an early shot just wide of the post.
The match at Spartak Stadium began at a ferocious tempo and Brazil left-back Marcelo was an early casualty, limping off the pitch after 10 minutes with tears rolling down his cheeks to be replaced by Filipe Luis.
Neymar had the best chance of the opening half hour when he forced Serbia goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic to palm his shot away. Tempers frayed when Serbia midfielder Adem Ljajic scythed down Neymar, in full flight on the left flank, to earn a booking on 33 minutes.
Brazil conjured the opener from nothing when a beautifully lofted pass from Philippe Coutinho found Paulinho, who flicked the ball over Stojkovic’s reach to make it 1-0 at the break.
Serbia repeatedly struggled to contain Brazil’s fleet-footed attack.
Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic was the next Serbian midfielder to be booked when he fouled Manchester City star Gabriel Jesus on 48 minutes.
Serbia’s brightest spell came with half an hour left, only to be let down by poor finishing. Ljajic stumbled to take a return pass after a charging run into Brazil’s box and then fired over shortly after.
Then with his defence beaten, Brazil goalkeeper Alisson palmed a save straight at Aleksandar Mitrovic, but the Serbia forward could only head the ball back into the thigh of Silva and the resultant rebound nestled into grateful arms of the Brazilian shotstopper.
With Serbia threatening, Brazil simply resorted to ball possession. They made the issue safe when Neymar swung in a free-kick and his PSG teammate Silva rose above his Serbian marker to bury the ball home.
With one eye on the last 16, Tite took off Coutinho with 10 minutes left while Neymar twice went close to scoring the Selecao’s third late on, but luck was not on his side.
The sublime samba show had ended.