Brazil coach Tite said his team can handle being made FIFA World Cup favorites after defeating Serbia 2-0 on Wednesday to set up a last-16 clash against Mexico.
After holders Germany earlier suffered a shock exit in the group stages, Brazil are now the bookmakers’ favorites to claim a record sixth World Cup title and Tite said his team can cope with the extra pressure.
“We don’t live off expectations, we live off reality,” the Brazil boss said. “We can take the pressure, we are a balanced team and for us, this is about getting stronger and growing.”
Brazil’s victory on Wednesday came after a sparkling performance from striker Neymar.
Brazil took the lead when Paulinho scored with a superb dinked finish on 36 minutes before Neymar swung in a cross for Thiago Silva to head the Selecao’s second with 22 minutes left in Moscow.
Having opened his account in this year’s finals with the second of Brazil’s two late goals in a 2-0 win over Costa Rica on Friday last week, Neymar was again impressive.
Neymar cut a more joyful figure after this win, blowing kisses to the crowd as the five-time champions celebrated.
As Group E winners, Brazil are now to face Mexico in Samara, Russia, on Monday, with group runners-up Switzerland taking on Sweden in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on Tuesday.
In the pre-match buildup, Tite said Neymar alone cannot “shoulder the responsibility” for his team’s World Cup hopes.
However, the 26-year-old seemed content to carry Brazil’s attack, motoring through Serbia’s midfield and crashing an early shot just wide of the post.
The match at Moscow’s Spartak Stadium began at a ferocious tempo and Brazil leftback Marcelo was an early casualty, limping off after 10 minutes to be replaced by Filipe Luis.
Neymar had the best chance of the opening half hour when he forced Serbia goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic to palm his shot away.
Tempers frayed when Serbia midfielder Adem Ljajic scythed down Neymar, in full flight on the left flank, to earn a booking on 33 minutes.
Brazil conjured the opener from nothing when a beautifully lofted pass from Philippe Coutinho found Paulinho, who flicked the ball over Stojkovic’s reach on 36 minutes to make it 1-0 at the break.
Serbia repeatedly struggled to contain Brazil’s fleet-footed attack.
Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic was the next Serbia midfielder to be booked when he fouled Manchester City star Gabriel Jesus on 48 minutes.
Serbia’s brightest spell came with a half-hour left, only to be let down by poor finishing.
Ljajic stumbled to take a return pass after a charging run into Brazil’s box and then fired over shortly after.
Later, with his defense beaten, Brazil goalkeeper Alisson palmed a save straight at Aleksandar Mitrovic, but the Serbia forward could only head the ball back into the grateful arms of shot-stopper.
To cap Serbia’s frustrations, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic fired wide, then Mitrovic guided a powerful header straight at Alisson from a corner.
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