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Thanks to Casemiro’s 83rd minute strike, Brazil sealed a 1-0 win against Switzerland on Monday to put it in pole position to finish first in Group H. After defeating Serbia 2-0 in its opener, a win or tie against Cameroon on Friday would secure Brazil’s first-place spot.
But there was a key difference in the two games: Neymar, Brazil’s marquee forward, did not play as he’s expected to miss the rest of the group stage games due to an ankle injury he suffered against Serbia.
Tite, Brazil’s manager, has the luxury of a deep attacking-minded squad to field a replacement for Neymar, which he did against the Swiss. Even though none of those attackers can exactly replicate what Neymar brings to the pitch, Tite’s adjustments throughout the game sufficed.
The starting XI saw Lucas Paquetá move up from the double-pivot role with Casemiro he thrived in against Serbia to the central attacking role that Neymar plays. That move put Paquetá in the left half-space area where he can link up with Vinicius Jr. on the left wing or get in passes to Richarlison, the No. 9, inside the box.
Fred came in at Paquetá’s spot and, like Paquetá against Serbia, was the more advanced center midfielder in possession with Casemiro dropping back in the No. 6/holding midfielder role. Danilo, who started at right back against Serbia but also missed the game with an ankle injury, was replaced by Éder Militão.
The first half started slow for Brazil, but Switzerland, a renowned European giant threat in the last few major tournaments, pressed in a 4-4-1-1 shape out of possession and blocked any progressive play down the middle to force the ball out wide.
Paquetá and Fred each had touches in their attacking third, but nothing led to quality chances as the half ended 0-0.
Substitutes proved to be the difference maker in the second half, where Brazil have scored nine of its last 10 World Cup goals.
Rodrygo entered the game at halftime for Paquetá while Bruno Guimarães came in for Fred in the 56th minute. Rodrygo’s Real Madrid chemistry with Vinicius was evident all throughout the second half, while Guimarães’ progressive passing and ability to play as a single pivot allowed Casemiro to trot up the pitch more often.
It also helped that Rodrygo, a natural right-footer, could cut in from the left half-space to open up better passing angles on his strong foot. Paquetá, left-footed, did not have that in his favor despite playing a solid game.
Unsurprisingly, the Vinicius-Rodrygo-Casemiro triumvirate at Real Madrid last season all combined for Brazil’s lone goal, with Rodrygo supplying the assist with his right foot.
In the end, Brazil created more expected goals (xG) to deserve the 1-0 win: 1.28 to Switzerland’s 0.39. It wasn’t more than what it produced against Serbia (2.13), but it was enough to get the three points and likely allow Tite to rest some of his key players knowing they could still achieve the desired result against Cameroon.