Casemiro provides Brazil relief in Neymar absence to edge past Switzerland

“We can’t stop talking about Neymar,” Casemiro had said in the build up to this latest game of Brazil’s quest to win a sixth World Cup. After his winning goal against Switzerland, they’ll only be talking about him.

With this side’s talismanic No 10 injured and watching wave after wave of pressure go unrewarded from afar, it was left to the defensive midfielder with just five international goals to his name to do his best impression of the absent hero.

The strike was a sweet one, struck hard and to Yann Sommer’s left, the Swiss keeper left with no chance as it arrowed into the corner. The relief in the stadium - and no doubt the team hotel where the laid up No 10 was watching on - was palpable. Neymar will play again at this World Cup, Tite insists, but in what condition remains to be seen, the treatment on the injured ankle that reduced him to tears in the final minutes against Serbia set to continue to the end of the group stages at the very least.

Thanks to Casemiro, the team he leaves behind are in the knockout rounds with a game to spare after a 1-0 win at Stadium 974 that for so long to be eluding them.

Amongst his many options to replace Neymar, Tite opted for Fred. As like for like replacements go, a stretch perhaps, and it was instead Lucas Paqueta who took up the early onus pushing on into the space behind Richarlison, Raphinha and Vinicius Jr, where Neymar would usually do his work.

Without their talisman Brazil started slowly, just as they did with him in the side against Serbia four days ago, all the ball and territory failing to translate into clear-cut chances once again. Indeed, just as against the Eagles, it took more than 20 minutes before the opposition goalkeeper was tested.

Raphinha, erratic in the opener but more decisive here, cut in on to his favoured left foot and bent over a delicious cross only for Vinicius, in perfect position in the middle, to fail to catch his volley flush leaving Sommer to palm away with relative ease. A golden opportunity missed. Vinicius, knew it too, the anguish stretched across the Real Madrid star’s face evidence of just how good an opening it was.

Casemiro continued to be a calm and classy presence in the middle, breaking up what few forays the Swiss made forward while distributing from deep the other way. Fred, his clubmate, was doing the same alongside, albeit in that slightly more chaotic fashion that is all his own.

Brazil's players gesture to the fans after their team's win (AFP via Getty Images)
Brazil's players gesture to the fans after their team's win (AFP via Getty Images)

Tite had seen enough. The half-time break the chosen moment for the boss to rejig his front four to make it a true front four, Rodrygo introduced for Paqueta as Brazil aimed to put the pedal down. It was Switzerland, though, who looked to accelerate first.

Ruben Vargas attempted the first real shot in anger before Alisson punched the resulting corner clear. The Liverpool goalkeeper was then nearly caught in possession in the next phase as the Swiss, perhaps waking to the possibility of another positive result against the Selecao, pressed up themselves.

Vinicius, looking to atone for that earlier miss, teased a ball just out Richarlison’s reach before streaking clear and finishing past Sommer with a calmness not seen in his earlier fluff only for an offside Richarlison in the build-up forcing VAR to intervene and chalk it off.

Bruno Guimaraes, Gabriel Jesus and Antony were all thrown into the fray, the desperation for a goal of any kind only growing, Tite surely wishing he could’ve turned to the watching Ronaldo, Cafu and Roberto Carlos too.

Casemiro of Brazil celebrates (Getty Images)
Casemiro of Brazil celebrates (Getty Images)

Sometimes, though, formations don’t matter, players do. And it was through one of Brazil’s very best that the breakthrough finally came.

Vinicius picked the ball up on the left, fed it to Rodrygo, who laid it into their former Real Madrid teammate’s path to hammer home. The bench emptied. A country back home exhaled.

Much like great rivals Argentina, this team, with so much on its shoulders to deliver what they so want in Qatar, will have to live life on an emotional high wire at this tournament, the consequences of a slip only building the closer it gets to achieving it. For now though time to breathe. The first step towards it is complete.