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By Andrew Downie
SAO PAULO, June 6 (Reuters) - Brazil survived a poor first half to beat Serbia 1-0 in a warm-up friendly on Friday, but their lacklustre display was not what the home fans expected just six days before the World Cup.
The crowd were booing the home side when Fred got the only goal of the game in the 57th minute, with the Fluminense forward chesting down a cross from the right and poking the ball home.
It was a cruel blow to the Serbs, who had out-fought their more illustrious opponents and created the best chances, particularly in the first half.
Brazil looked shaky in the air with Aleksandar Mitrovic putting a free header wide after 30 minutes and Milos Jujic hitting the post with a header midway through the second half.
Hulk had the ball in the net for Brazil after 73 minutes but the goal was ruled out for offside, although TV replays showed the decision was harsh. Jo later brought out a fine finger-tipped save in the closing seconds.
The friendly was Brazil's last before they open the World Cup against Croatia at the Corinthians arena next week. Brazil are hosting the World Cup for the first time since 1950 and are in Group A with Cameroon, Mexico and Croatia.
"It was a difficult game today, Serbia defended very well," said Brazil playmaker Oscar. "The team is going to train, we are getting better little by little and we hope to be better against Croatia.
"In the first half some players were mishitting passes they don't usually mishit but I am sure it will all work out fine against Croatia."
Brazil were back at full strength after missing Paulinho and Thiago Silva against Panama on Tuesday. Oscar was also included, a day after the birth of his daughter Julia.
Luiz Felipe Scolari's lineup was the same as the one that demolished Spain 3-0 in the final of last year's Confederations Cup and the one that is expected to start against Croatia in the World Cup's opening match next Thursday.
Yet they looked uneasy against their stronger opponents in persistent rain that made the surface slippery.
The Serbs were at times too strong and too clever for Brazil, particularly on the flanks where they caused no end of trouble, creating several gilt-edged chances.
Only a timely intervention from Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar prevented a Serbian boot from getting on the end of a low cross from Aleksandar Kolarov on the half-hour mark and Mitrovic should have done better with his header.
Fred's goal settled Brazil and although both sides pushed forward neither could add to the scoring.
The win was Brazil's ninth in a row and their 15th in the last 16. (Reporting by Andrew Downie; editing by Toby Davis)
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- Aleksandar Mitrovic