Philippe Coutinho’s goal in the first minute of second-half stoppage time rescued a frustrated Brazil, which took the provisional lead atop Group E with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Costa Rica on Friday in St. Petersburg.
After being stymied by Ticos keeper Keylor Navas the entire 90 minutes, the five-time champion finally found its breakthrough late. Marcelo started the play from the left with a cross to Roberto Firmino in the penalty area, and the Liverpool forward headed it across to Gabriel Jesus. He in turn headed it into the path of the on-rushing Coutinho, who slotted through Navas from close range and let the tense Brazilian fans in attendance and at watch parties around South America release their frustration and fears in celebration.
Neymar, who flitted about on the left the entire match and created scoring chances for both himself and others, capped the scoring just before the final whistle with a tap-in on a pass from Casemiro after the two raced past an exhausted Costa Rica defense. It was Neymar’s 56th international goal, moving him ahead of Romario for third all-time behind only Pele (77) and Ronaldo (62).
The victory moved the Selecao to four points, putting them one better than Serbia, which plays Switzerland later Friday. Costa Rica, which defended so bravely as Navas finished with six saves, was eliminated with its second loss in group play.
Prior to Coutinho’s second goal of the World Cup, it appeared the talking point of the match was going to be referee Bjorn Kuipers’ overturning of his own penalty call awarded to Neymar in the 79th minute after using VAR.
The PSG forward had the ball just above the six-yard box on the left and as he tried to cut inside Giancarlo Gonzalez, the Costa Rica defender put his hand on Neymar’s midsection while trying to keep him from fully turning. Neymar sold the contact, teetering on his heels before falling backward to draw the call from Kuipers.
Kuipers, who was also a referee in 2014 in Brazil, then made use of the technology available in Russia to determine Neymar did indeed play up the contact from Gonzalez and overturned the call, infuriating the Brazilian.
The Selecao spent nearly the entire second half in Costa Rica’s final third as it tried seemingly everything to get a shot past Navas, picking up their pace after Tite introduced Douglas Costa at halftime to replace an ineffective Willian.
Gabriel Jesus headed a cross from Paulinho off the crossbar in the 49th minute and Neymar fizzed one narrowly wide of the right post from 18 yards in the 72nd, but all the while, the Real Madrid keeper was the picture of calm, with his best save coming on Neymar in the 56th minute when he tipped Neymar’s clipped shot from 10 yards over the bar.
Brazil also tested him from distance as Navas thwarted Coutinho, Neymar and Casemiro at various points. The Selecao rang up a 22-3 advantage in shots, including nine on target without reply by the Ticos.
Costa Rica continued the trend of physically man-marking Neymar that Switzerland started, with Kuipers whistling three fouls in the first 25 minutes. At one point, the Dutch referee admonished him for complaining in the second half, and Neymar picked up a yellow card in the second half, though that was more out of frustration of Costa Rica’s time-wasting than the reversal on the penalty call.
The Ticos had exactly one quality scoring chance the entire match, with Celso Borges dragging a shot wide of the left post from 12 yards in the 13th minute after a smart layoff pass from the right by Cristian Gamboa. Costa Rica rarely sustained possession in Brazil’s half and failed to create anything substantial off two second-half corner kicks.
Jesus had a goal correctly chalked off for being offsides in the 26th minute, and the Selecao’s other clear-cut chances were a pair of shots by Marcelo from just outside the penalty area on the left. One went wide of the right post, the other was calmly scooped up by Navas.