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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.

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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.

Brazil experiments with a new ‘magic quartet’ at World Cup

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Brazil will be experimenting with a new version of the “magic quartet” in Russia.

More than a decade after the five-time world champions arrived for the World Cup in Germany with its prolific foursome of Ronaldinho, Kaka, Ronaldo and Adriano, Brazil is set to use a “Fab Four” of Neymar, Willian, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus to try to win its first title since 2002.

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It will be the first time Brazil brings a prominent attacking foursome like the one that attracted all the headlines 12 years ago.

Brazil coach Tite still hasn’t announced his starting lineup for the opener against Switzerland in Rostov-on-Don on Sunday, but all signs show that he will stick to the quartet that helped the team ease past Austria in its final warm-up match last week.

It was the first time the four players started together under Tite, and the lineup earned nothing but praise after the convincing 3-0 win.

“This formation is a very strong one,” Tite said. “It gives us a lot of creativity and aggressiveness.”

Tite had said the performance against Austria would likely determine whether he would keep the foursome for the World Cup opener. Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Coutinho each scored for Brazil in Vienna.

Tite used the Fab Four formation in parts of the team’s practice session on Tuesday.

The quartet is considered Brazil’s ideal lineup but it hadn’t played much together until now for various reasons, including Neymar’s absence since February because of a foot injury. The game against Austria marked his first start since recovering from the injury. He had come off the bench in the second half of the team’s 2-0 win over Croatia in Liverpool.

The foursome had been together only three other times, and not for many minutes. Douglas Costa had played in Neymar’s position most of the time, and Renato Augusto had been Tite’s preferred option to compose the midfield instead of Willian.

The coach tested the quartet formation in the friendly against Russia in March, but with Costa up front instead of the injured Neymar. Brazil won that match, also 3-0.

The concept of the Brazilian magic quartet first gained prominence at the 2005 Confederations Cup, which Brazil won. It clinched the title with a 4-1 win over Argentina in the final, when Adriano scored twice and Kaka and Ronaldinho added a goal each. Then-coach Carlos Alberto Parreira used Robinho in the attack instead of Ronaldo, who didn’t play because of personal reasons.

Ronaldo was fully available by the time the World Cup arrived, and Brazil was heavily favored to win the title in Germany with the quartet back together. But after cruising past the group stage and easily eliminating Ghana in the round of 16, Brazil’s much-hyped foursome lost to France 1-0 in the quarterfinals.

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Neymar left out of main Brazil team at World Cup camp

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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.

Liverpool owner Henry reflects on history, takes shots at Suarez, Coutinho

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Terrific AP reporter Rob Harris sat down for a chat with Liverpool owner John Henry, and the American businessman didn’t hesitate to unleash some prime quotes.

Liverpool, of course, is preparing for the weekend’s UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid, and feeling its oats a bit.

[ MORE: Ronaldinho marrying 2 women ]

Henry is no exception, saying of departed Reds stars Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, “They’ll be watching this weekend and could have been playing.”

And his shots didn’t stop with the Barcelona stars. He extended it to all of La Liga. From the AP:

“You don’t want to be in the position where players want to go somewhere else, even if it is a great club like Barcelona,” Henry said. “It’s hard to understand why players would want to go to a league where the competition is so weak. They must play 30 or so meaningless matches per year waiting for Champions League matches.”

Henry also talks about his takeover, selling Fernando Torres, and how Anfield pushes Liverpool past the competition. Read the whole interview here.