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Brazil waste Coutinho’s stunner, draw Switzerland in opener

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Brazil started brilliantly and raced out to an early lead, but the five-time World Cup winners — and one of a handful of favorites in 2018 — disappointed in the end as they settled for a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in the two sides’ Group E opener.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Philippe Coutinho opened the scoring after 20 minutes, turning home a stunning strike from distance, off the inside of the post, to settle any early nerves and give Tite’s Selecao a 1-0 lead (WATCH HERE).

It wasn’t Brazil’s first golden scoring chance of the game, though, as Coutinho and Neymar combined down the left wing to send the latter into space inside the penalty area. Neymar played a first-time cross into the six-yard box, but Paulinho‘s scuffed effort from close range was tipped around the post by Yann Sommer.

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A bit of complacency and real lack of urgency washed over Brazil as soon as they went ahead, affording Switzerland every opportunity to get back in the game.

Vladimir Petkovic’s side needed just five second-half minutes to draw level, thanks to some shoddy set-piece defending by Brazil. Steven Zuber took up a spot at the near post, virtually unmarked inside the six-yard box, and headed past Alisson.

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The game’s most controversial moment came just after the 70-minute mark, when Gabriel Jesus was bear-hugged inside the penalty area. Wrapped up from behind, the Manchester City forward was blatantly prevented from getting to the ball after a quick passage of smooth build-up, but referee Cesar Arturo Ramos Palazuelos was unmoved and no video review was enacted.

By the full-time whistle, Brazil had piled up 21 shots (just four on target) compared to just six from Switzerland (two). Despite on-target efforts from Neymar and Renato Augusto inside the game’s final five minutes, a winner wasn’t on the cards and the sides were forced to split the points.

Up next for Brazil is a clash with Costa Rica on Friday, while Switzerland will face Serbia the same day. The Serbs topped the Costa Ricans in Sunday’s first game, putting them top of the group after after the first of three rounds in Group E.

Video: Coutinho’s curler has Brazil flying early

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It took 20 minutes for the Selecao to get on the board, but Brazil looks every bit as good as advertised.

Tite’s side struck nearly halfway through the opening stanza when Barcelona star Philippe Coutinho curled his shot from distance off the inside of the post against Switzerland.

The Brazilians came close on several occasions prior to Coutinho’s opener, but the 26-year-old made good on the misses with his first career World Cup tally.

How would Liverpool line up with Fekir? And can they catch Man City?

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Liverpool’s attack has not been questioned much, and for good reason, but the addition of Nabil Fekir asks two big questions.

  1. Is his playmaking ability in the center of the park, combined with Fabinho and Naby Keita behind him, enough to push Liverpool to Manchester City’s level?
  2. Is he enough to lead Jurgen Klopp to abandon a 4-3-3 that served him so following the sale of Philippe Coutinho?

First things first, Fekir is a great get. Even coming off a career year that begs a comparison to Liverpool selling high on Coutinho, this is a nice add for the Reds.

[ MORE: PST talks with Omar Gonzalez ]

Fekir brings a silky skill set and a very good 85 percent pass completion rate given he plays in an advanced part of the pitch and takes a lot of audacious chances will the ball. Eighteen league goals and eight assists are no jokes, either.

He was, however, deployed in a manner inconsistent with how Jurgen Klopp uses his midfielders in a 4-3-3. Fekir played a lot in the 4-2-3-1, a formation Klopp stopped using after the sale of Philippe Coutinho.

In fact, when Lyon boss Bruno Génésio opted for a 4-3-3, it was usually because Fekir was injured or unavailable. Génésio used Fekir once as a right wing in the 4-3-3, and twice as a right central midfielder in an inverted triangle. One time, they beat PSG. Conversely, they also lost to Bordeaux.

Klopp could easily opt to go back to a 4-2-3-1, especially with more safety in defensive midfield thanks to the arrivals of Fabinho and Naby Keita (It’s also worth noting that the trio combined for 23 yellow cards and two red cards last season, so Liverpool could set some sort of record there).

Liverpool used a 4-3-3 in all four of their meetings with Man City last season, the only loss coming when the Reds had 10 men. City used a 4-3-3 twice against Liverpool, a 3-1-4-2 in the 5-0 win, an a 3-5-2 when chasing the second leg of the UEFA Champions League tie.

The Reds had so much success in the 4-3-3 late last season, and especially against City, even if the formation was demanded largely due to injury. Klopp will probably use both, but perhaps it’s best to expect a lot more 4-2-3-1.

And it would probably look like this:

— Karius —

— Alexander-Arnold — Matip — Van Dijk — Robertson —

— Fabinho — Keita —

— Salah — Fekir — Mane —

— Firmino —

That is a very good lineup, and it’s unreasonable to think any of the players take a dramatic step back next season.

But going to a 4-3-3 with Fekir in the center of the park is not a formation I’d hazard against Man City. And using Fekir on the wing means benching Sadio Mane (likely to use Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita on top of Fabinho).

As good as Man City was last season, it’s difficult to believe they are going to find another 100-point season. Bounces alone should knock them down to 95. Can the Reds be 15-20 points better?

It’s possible, sure, but don’t forget that City is going to be improved by familiarity with the system alone (not to mention additions like (probably) Riyad Mahrez).

Is it August yet? Oh yeah, we’ve got a World Cup first.

Neymar set to return to action in Brazil-Croatia friendly

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Neymar is set to play for Brazil on Sunday for the first time since being injured in February.

But the striker will only come on in the second half of the friendly game against Croatia in Liverpool, Brazil coach Tite said at a news conference on Saturday.

Neymar has been sidelined for more than three months due to surgery on his right foot.

“He will be on the bench because he is in the process of recovery and will play in the second half because this is a match to prepare the whole team,” Tite said. “I don’t know who will leave. He has to have a leading role, but the others have to have leading roles as well.”

Brazil’s team on Sunday was unveiled as Alisson; Danilo, Thiago Silva, Miranda and Marcelo; Casemiro, Paulinho and Fernandinho; Philippe Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus and Willian.

Asked whether that would be his starting lineup if the World Cup began now, Tite said “Yes” three times.

“At this moment they are the best and we have to work with the current moment,” Tite said.

That would mean defender Thiago Silva, Brazil’s captain at the 2014 World Cup, getting his place back in the starting lineup alongside Miranda, leaving his Paris Saint-Germain teammate Marquinhos out.

“It was very difficult to choose,” Tite said. “When Marquinhos got injured a few months ago, Thiago stepped in and did great. Sometimes it pains my heart and I have to decide. It would be fair to have any of those three in the team.”

Still, Tite said he could change his mind before the World Cup begins. Brazil’s opener is on June 17 against Switzerland. Costa Rica and Serbia are also in Group E.

Brazil’s coach denied that the midfield formation with Casemiro, Fernandinho and Paulinho would be too cautious.

Midfielder Renato Augusto, who plays more as a pacemaker, was injured earlier in the week during training and replaced by Manchester City’s Fernandinho.

Five-time World Cup champion Brazil will not have a single captain for the tournament and 21-year-old striker Gabriel Jesus will lead the team on Sunday.

“We will keep sharing (the captaincy) in the World Cup. But with athletes that are more experienced, they will be used more,” Tite said.

Croatia was deliberately picked by Brazil as a tough opponent, and coaching assistant Cleber Xavier said it was a test similar to the one Brazil will face against Serbia.

“Croatia has many players in Italy, Spain. Their midfielders are great and they play with two lines of four players. Luka Modric here is different from the one of Real Madrid. It will be a great test,” Xavier said.

Modric said Brazil was better than the team which opened the 2014 World Cup against Croatia in Sao Paulo. Brazil won that game 3-1 with two goals from Neymar.

“But we have improved too, so this will be a good game,” Modric said.

Neymar left out of main Brazil team at World Cup camp

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) After saying last week that he was not 100 percent healthy, Neymar was left out of Brazil’s main team Thursday at its World Cup training camp.

The Paris Saint-Germain striker is still being hampered by a foot injury.

[ MORE: Zlatan displeased with LA effort ]

Before heading to London on Sunday, Neymar said he had not fully recovered after a week of training with the national team in Brazil. But he predicted that he would be better for the tournament in Russia, which begins on June 14.

Brazil will face Croatia in a friendly on Sunday in Liverpool. It is not clear if Neymar will start.

In Thursday’s practice, Brazil coach Tite used Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus up front.

Thiago Silva was also put in the practice team, in the place of Marquinhos.

Earlier, the Brazilian soccer confederation said midfielder Renato Augusto injured his right knee and could miss the game against Croatia at Anfield.

The 30-year-old Augusto is likely to be rested for the rest of the week.

Brazil has been practicing at Tottenham’s training center since Monday and will stay until June 8.

The team’s last pre-World Cup friendly will be against Austria on June 10.

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