Goals from Paulinho and Thiago Silva ensured a 2-0 victory for Brazil over Serbia in their 2018 FIFA World Cup Group E clash on Wednesday night, with the five-time champions setting up a pre-quarters date with Mexico in the process.
After South Korea had knocked defending champions Germany out of the World Cup earlier in the day, there were fears that Tite’s men might get humbled as well for Serbia were still in contention to make the knockouts.
The early departure of cavalier fullback Marcelo seemingly disrupted their rhythm while going forward.
They started slowly, struggling to make inroads against a determined Serbian defence and it would take a goal made in Barcelona to break the deadlock.
Philippe Coutinho, who’d scored in each of Brazil’s last two games, spotted Paulinho’s run and his immaculate dink over the defence found his compatriot and the industrious midfielder got the slightest of touches to beat the onrushing Vladimir Stojkovic in the 36th minute.
Paulinho’s strike, late in the first-half calmed nerves in the Brazilian camp as the teams head into the interval with the South Americans holding on to a slim lead.
Post the intevral, Brazil continued to dominate and while they did look dangerous with the ball, Neymar and Gabriel Jesus were not having their best outings in the yellow jersey.
Towards the hour mark, Serbia started to apply real pressure to their fancied opponents and made them sweat. Had it not been for the wastefulness of Aleksandr Mitrovic, the Eastern Europeans could easily have gotten back on level terms at the very least.
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As it was, they just couldn’t find the back of the net and Brazil would make them pay with a precise corner. Neymar swung in an inviting cross for Thiago Silva to head home in the 68th minute.
From then on, it was only a question of how many more the South Americans could score, but Stojkovic kept the scoreline to a respectable level.
In the other tie on the night, Switzerland were held to a 2-2 draw with Costa Rica, which meant that the Swiss qualified along with Brazil and will now take on Sweden in the round-of-16.