Sun, Jun 24, 2018 - Page 11 News List

World Cup: Brazil back on track after two late goals

‘JUST EMOTION’:Two Swiss players after scoring returned the crowd’s jeers with ‘double-eagle’ gestures resembling the flag of Kosovo, which Belgrade refuses to recognize

AFP, ST PETERSBURG, Russia

Brazil’s Casemiro, second right, misses a chance to score against Costa Rica during their World Cup match on Friday in St Petersburg, Russia.

Photo: Reuters

Brazil on Friday needed two injury-time goals to defeat a dogged Costa Rica, as Philippe Coutinho and Neymar scored late to put the five-time World Cup winners back on track for the last 16.

The Brazilians looked to be heading for a second frustrating draw in a row before Barcelona forward Coutinho poked the ball through Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas’ legs in the 91st minute.

Such was the relief on the Brazil bench in St Petersburg that coach Tite sprinted onto the pitch before stumbling and had to be helped to his feet.

Neymar, who had a penalty award ruled out by referee Bjorn Kuipers after he consulted the video assistant, volleyed in the second goal seven minutes into injury time — the latest strike in World Cup history.

The world’s most expensive player slumped to his knees at the end and later posted a message on Twitter and Instagram hitting back at criticism of his emotional reaction.

“Not everyone knows what I went through to get here. Even parrots can talk, but walking the walk ... not everyone does it. I cried out of happiness, overcoming, grit and desire to win,” he said.

“Things were never easy in my life, so why would they be now? The dream — no, the OBJECTIVE — is still alive. Congratulations for the performance, guys,” he added.

HOPE FOR ARGENTINA

In stark contrast to Brazil’s relief, Argentina and Lionel Messi were in disarray following their shambolic 3-0 defeat to Croatia on Thursday.

The team management was forced to deny stories that the players wanted coach Jorge Sampaoli sacked before their final group game against Nigeria, saying they were “absolutely false.”

Adding to the acrimony, several Spanish media outlets reported on an audio recording of former Argentina international Diego Simeone in which he lambasted the “anarchy” in the team and said he would choose Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo over Messi given the choice.

“Messi is very good, but it is clear that he is very good because he is surrounded by extraordinary players [at Barcelona],” said Simeone, who manages Atletico Madrid. “The question I ask is: ‘If you have to choose between Messi and Ronaldo in a normal team, who would you choose?’”

However, Argentina’s uphill battle to qualify for the knockout phase might have been aided by Nigeria’s 2-0 win over Iceland on Friday that leaves Group D intriguingly poised.

A defeat would have put the Super Eagles out of contention, but Ahmed Musa struck twice to become the first Nigerian player to score at two World Cups.

That set up a showdown between Nigeria and Argentina in St Petersburg. If Argentina win, they still have a chance of qualifying second behind Croatia.

MIXING POLITICS

In Friday’s late game, Switzerland came from behind to beat Serbia 2-1 thanks to Xherdan Shaqiri’s 90th minute long-range thunderbolt to move level with Brazil on four points in Group E.

It was a poignant victory for Shaqiri and fellow goalscorer Granit Xhaka, who, along with teammate Valon Belrami, were booed by Serbia’s fans because they have roots in Kosovo, a former province of Serbia whose declaration of independence Belgrade refuses to recognize.

Shaqiri and Xhaka celebrated their goals by hooking their thumbs and hands together in a “double-eagle” gesture representing Kosovo’s flag.

“You can see what I did, it was just emotion,” he said.

A win in Kaliningrad would have guaranteed Serbia a place in the knockout stage for the first time since becoming an independent nation, regardless of their result against Brazil in the last group game.

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