DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Struggling and unconvincing without Neymar on the field, Brazil still played well enough to secure a spot in the next round of the World Cup.
The five-time champions overcame the absence of their injured star to beat Switzerland 1-0 with a late goal Monday and make it to the round of 16 with a match to spare in Group G.
“Of course we miss a player like Neymar,” Brazil coach Tite said. “The team loses a lot without him. But we also have other players who can get the job done, as we saw it today."
Casemiro got the only goal in the 83rd minute of a game in which Brazil had difficulties creating scoring chances without its main playmaker. The defensive midfielder scored with a one-timer into the far corner, using the outside of his right foot for a shot that deflected slightly off defender Manuel Akanji.
“We knew that it wasn't going to be easy. We had to be patient,” Casemiro said. “Out first objective was to advance and we achieved that.”
Neymar stayed at the team’s hotel to treat a right ankle injury sustained in the opener in Qatar. He posted an Instagram story showing him watching the match on television while undergoing treatment on his foot.
“Casemiro has been the best defensive midfielder in the world for a long time,” Neymar wrote on Twitter.
Team doctors have not yet given a timetable for Neymar's return — or said if he will return at all. Vinícius Júnior said Neymar also had a fever on Monday, though the team had not officially said anything about it.
“We know that Neymar is a great player and that he makes a difference,” Brazil defender Marquinhos said. “In difficult moments he takes on the responsibility and creates the opportunities, but we showed once again that we have quality players to make up for his absence.”
The win gave Brazil six points from two matches, leaving Switzerland with three. Serbia and Cameroon, which drew 3-3 earlier Monday, have one point each.
Switzerland, which had no attempts on target, needs a win in the last match against Serbia to guarantee its spot in the next stage. A draw may be enough depending on the match between Brazil and Cameroon.
The result extended Brazil’s unbeaten run in the group stage to 17 matches, with 14 wins and three draws. It has lost only one of its last 29 group games, with the last defeat coming against Norway in 1998 in France.
Switzerland had lost only two of its last 13 group matches at the World Cup.
“I can’t really blame the team, it did a good job for quite some time,” Switzerland coach Murat Yakin said through a translator. “I don’t think it’s a disappointment. We have a lot of good takeaways here. The next game is something we have control over.”
It was an even match early on, with both teams trying to control the game but not creating many significant chances. Without Neymar, Brazil struggled to get near Switzerland's area until Casemiro's goal. The assists came from Vinícius Junios and Rodrygo, the Real Madrid players who until recent had Casemiro as their teammate. Casemiro now plays for Manchester United.
Tite replaced Neymar with Fred, Casemiro's teammate at Man United, freeing up Lucas Paquetá to play closer to the attack. Éder Militão, who plays as a central defender at Real Madrid, came in for Danilo in the right back position, instead of veteran Dani Alves.
With Paquetá not being able to create much for Brazil, Tite began the second half with Rodrygo in the team. Richarlison, who scored both of Brazil’s goals in the opener, was not as effective and was substituted in the second half.
Vinícius Júnior thought he had given Brazil the lead with a shot from inside the area after a pass by Casemiro in the 64th, but video review determined there was offside in the buildup. Few had noticed it until the VAR call was announced at Stadium 974.
The lights dimmed for a few seconds before halftime at Stadium 974, prompting a brief stoppage in play. Brazil was about to take a corner when it suddenly started turning dark at the temporary stadium.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni