World Cup Match 13: Belgium 3, Panama 0 (June 18)

Romelu Lukaku’s second-half brace after a wonder strike by Dries Mertens shortly after the interval gave Belgium a glossy 3-0 victory over World Cup debutant Panama in the opening match of Group G in Sochi.

The Red Devils dominated the proceedings throughout the contest and turned on the style in the final 45 minutes as all three goals were well-taken. The gulf in class between the sides, with Belgium featuring players from the best sides in Europe against a Panama side where football is still the second-most popular sport to baseball was evident early and remained that way even while it took more than a half for Roberto Martinez’s side to break down the Canaleros.

That is not to slight Panama, which gave everything it could in its first World Cup match. The country’s president was among 4,000 people of a population of just under four million who made the trek to Russia, and they made a vibrant scene in Sochi.

They were nearly rewarded right before the final whistle, when defender Fidel Escobar tried to loop a shot from his own half over Thibaut Courtois as the Belgian keeper was off his line, but the Chelsea shot-stopper backpedaled and punched it over the bar to preserve his clean sheet.

Belgium never seemed to get out of third gear in the first half yet still fashioned plenty of scoring chances. Eden Hazard pounced on a back pass without pace before the quarter-hour but fired his shot into the left side netting. Lukaku had a sure goal snuffed on a deflection by Roman Torres, who got a toe to a cross whipped in from the right by Mertens in the 20th minute.

Panama’s best option defensively was often physical play, and the Canaleros accumulated five yellow cards over the course of the contest.

The Canaleros continued to soak up pressure as the second half began, and it finally became too much courtesy of a moment of magic by Mertens two minutes after the restart. The Napoli man gave his full attention to the ball Hazard headed into the air and from just inside the penalty area on the right side, uncorked a looping right-footed shot Panama keeper Jaime Penedo had no chance of stopping as it sailed into the net and hit the side netting on the left.

Unshackled from the pressure of getting a result, Roberto Martinez’s men finally engaged the gears that have many pegging them as World Cup title darkhorses. Lukaku doubled the advantage in the 69th minute with a well-placed diving header from six yards inside the right post following an exquisite slicing right-footed pass from Kevin De Bruyne as the Manchester rivals combined on the marker.

Six minutes later it was Hazard’s turn to be playmaker, storming down the middle of the pitch on a counter before sending Lukaku through on the left. The Manchester United forward patiently waited for Penedo to commit before chipping a left-footed shot over him from 12 yards.

About the only downside for Belgium was accruing three yellow cards of its own as Thomas Meunier, Jan Vertonghen and De Bruyne all went into Janny Sikwaze’s book. The Red Devils finished with 15 shots and put as many on target (6) as Panama attempted overall.

Belgium’s second group match will be against Tunisia on Saturday in Moscow, while Panama will face England the following day in Nizhny Novogorod.

 

World Cup Match 12: Sweden 1, South Korea 0 (June 18)

For the second time in the first set of matches at the World Cup, the Video Assistant Referee played a pivotal role as a penalty by Andreas Granqvist in the 65th minute after consultation proved decisive as Sweden edged South Korea 1-0 in Nizhy Novogorod to claim a share of the lead in Group F.

The VAR system has caused plenty of controversy for penalty calls after the fact and some not reviewed in the first five days of the World Cup. Referee Joel Aguilar was alerted to review a play in which Kim Min-woo scythed Viktor Claesson as he chased a ball to the right of goal, enraging the Swedish bench as they called for the play to be given a second look.

After watching the replay, Aguilar pointed to the spot, where Granqvist the center back looked as calm as a striker taking the penalty as he sent Cho Hyun-woo in the wrong direction and slotted it into the right corner.

The win gives Sweden a share of the group lead with Mexico, with reigning champion Germany tied with South Korea for third and needing a victory over the Blagult in the next match to keep control of its destiny in its final group finale.

Sweden also had a penalty shout late in the first half turned down when Ki Sung-yueng made a challenge on Ola Toivonen, but VAR felt Ki got enough of the ball not to ask Aguilar to take a second glance.

The European side had all the better chances as South Korea failed to put any of its five shots on frame. Cho made a fantastic save to keep the game scoreless in the 21st minute, ranging to his left to get his leg to a point-blank shot by Marcus Berg. Eight minutes later, it was Taeguk defender Kim Young-gwon coming to Cho’s rescue as he made a last-gasp slide to deflect Berg’s shot after the ball pinballed in the box following a Sweden corner.

Son Heung-Min tried to find space to be a threat for South Korea, but Granqvist led a well-marshaled backline against the Tottenham Hotspur striker, whose penalty appeal on a challenge by Ludwig Augustinssson shortly before halftime went unanswered.

Though not challenging Blagult keeper Robin Olsen, South Korea did fashion some chances in the final 45 minutes. Koo Ja-cheol sent a header wide of target shortly after the interval. In stoppage time, the Taeguk had their best chance, but Hwang Hee-chan’s unmarked header from 10 yards on a cross by Lee Jae-sung went begging wide of the left post.

South Korea coach Shin Tae-young was forced into one substitution early in the contest as Park Joo-ho left in the 28th minute with what appeared to be a severe hamstring injury. Kim Min-woo played the final 62 minutes in his place.

Sweden moves on to play four-time champion Germany on Saturday in Sochi while South Korea will try to regroup versus Mexico earlier that day in Rostov-on-Don

2018 World Cup Group G — Belgium vs Panama Match Preview

Oozing with talent as one of the World Cup favorites, Belgium looks to live up to expectations Monday when it faces debutant Panama in the Group G opener for both in Sochi.

In the prime of their golden generation, big things are expected of the Red Devils in Russia. They reached the quarterfinals in both the World Cup four years ago and the most recent World Cup championships, though the latter finish was disappointing enough to sack Marc Wilmots and replace him with Roberto Martinez.

Belgium was the first country to qualify for the World Cup, doing so with two matches to spare in group play, as a side led by English Premier League stars Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku are tipped for big things in a group in which it is the clear-cut favorite.

Panama, on the other hand, is making its first World Cup appearance after claiming the third and final spot in the CONCACAF region. That made up for the stinging disappointment from four years ago, when the Canaleros were on the verge of finishing fourth and facing New Zealand in a playoff before conceding twice in second-half stoppage time to lose 3-2 at home to the U.S., which had nothing to play for in that contest.

 

A nation of less than four million people is roughly the size of South Carolina, Panama’s qualification for the World Cup is also the result of a golden generation of players who blossomed under Hernan Dario Gomez, who is taking his second country to the World Cup after leading Ecuador to its first appearance in 2002.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Belgium made quick work of qualifying in Group I in Europe, winning nine of its 10 matches while outscoring opponents 43-6. It was admittedly a weak group for the Red Devils to boss, with Greece finishing a distant runner-up nine points back and also featuring newcomers Gibraltar in its first qualifying campaign of any sort.

They have gotten out of group play in six of their last seven World Cup appearances, failing only in 1998 when they played three draws. In Brazil four years ago, Belgium swept South Korea, Russia and Algeria in group play before defeating the U.S. in extra time in the round of 16 and losing to Argentina in the quarterfinals.

It was the second time Belgium progressed to the quarterfinals, with its best showing coming with a fourth-place finish in Mexico in 1986.

Panama won only three matches in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying but also lost only three matches. The Canaleros got needed results on the final matchday when it rallied to defeat Costa Rica while the U.S. was unable to get a needed point to qualify as it lost at Trinidad & Tobago. Panama scored just nine goals in its 10 matches but conceded only 10.

FORMATIONS

Belgium is stacked with star power at every position, but talisman and central defender Vincent Kompany will miss at least the first two matches with a groin injury suffered in the run-up. His replacement, Dedryck Boyata, will be flanked by a pair of Tottenham Hotspur defenders in Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld as they serve keeper Thibaut Courtois.

Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne are arguably two of the best players in the world, with the former a one-time EPL player of the year for Chelsea and the latter a runner-up for the award this season playing for Manchester City. They are joined by Axel Witsel, who will be a defensive midfielder in this 3-4-2-1 set-up.

Dries Mertens will join Hazard in a more advanced role behind Lukaku, who finished his first season at Manchester United with 27 goals in 51 matches in all competitions and has tallied 36 goals in 69 international appearances. Vertonghen is the lone centurion on the squad with 102 caps, while Witsel has 90 and Hazard 86.

Panama will utilize a 4-1-4-1 formation, with three members of its backline playing for teams in Major League Soccer in the U.S. Roman Torres and Fidel Escobar will be the central defense pairing. Gabriel Gomez, the Canaleros’ most capped player with 144 appearances, will provide support as a defensive midfielder and may occasionally provide a fifth man in the back, but look for Panama to also be cautious defensively.

While Gomez likes to use a high press, Panama was overwhelmed 6-0 in a recent friendly by Switzerland, which utilized one-touch passing to pull the defense apart. Given how fast De Bruyne and Hazard can move the ball through the midfield, look to see less of the high press and more sitting deep.

Up front, Blas Perez is a physical player who could give young Boyata issues. He has 43 goals in 118 appearances and is tied with teammate Luis Tejada for the most goals in team history.  The Canaleros have six players with more than 100 caps, and a seventh, Armando Cooper, could join them if he appears in two matches.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Belgium – Kevin De Bruyne (MF)

Though not the proficient goal-scorer Mohamed Salah was for Liverpool, De Bruyne showed an unrivaled all-around game in helping Manchester City become the first 100-point team in English football history this season. He finished with 12 goals and 20 assists in all competitions for the Premier League champions and has 14 goals in 62 international appearances.

Panama – Jose Luis Rodriguez (MF)

Just 19 years old, Rodriguez is a curious late call-up by Gomez considering he had not received any playing time with Belgium’s senior Gent side in the Juliper League. He made his international debut in May against Northern Ireland and will likely spend most of this match chasing long balls down the left flank as a relief valve to counter Belgium’s pressure.

RUMORED TO MOVE

Alderweireld is supposedly on the short list of Jose Mourinho’s wants at wide back for Manchester United, with a reported transfer fee of £75 million doing little to rebuff him. His club and compatriot on the backline, Vertonghen has been linked with a move to Lazio, with the Italian side eager for his services.

BETTING ANGLE

Per Ladbrokes, Belgium are heavy, heavy 1-6 favorites, with Panama getting long 16-1 odds to pull off the shock of the first matches of the World Cup. The odds of a draw are also decidedly long at 11-2. For the first goal-scorer of the match, Lukaku is 12-5 and Hazard is 7-2, with Michy Batshuayi surprisingly in the middle of the pair at 3-1.

Ten Belgian players are listed before Panama’s Tejada is listed at 10-1, with Perez right behind at 11-1.

PREDICTION

It’s time for the rubber to meet the road for Belgium, which has embraced the expectations that come with this very talented squad. The Red Devils looked impressive in their last two World Cup tune-ups, dismantling Egypt 3-0 and Costa Rica 4-1 after playing Portugal to a scoreless draw.

They will have to play a patient game, though, given what Panama learned about its limitations in that loss to Switzerland. Gomez knows his team will struggle offensively; the Canaleros scored just one goal in five friendlies in 2018, and that came against Trinidad & Tobago, which finished last in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying.

One thing to keep an eye on here is the weather conditions. Panama is used to playing in humid conditions, and that was the case in the last match played in Sochi. Still, that will not be enough to save the Canaleros as Belgium should win comfortably by a 3-0 count to get things going in Group G.

UP NEXT

Belgium will face Tunisia in Moscow on Saturday, while Panama will have an extra day to recover before facing England in Nizhny Novogorod.

2018 World Cup Group G — England vs Tunisia Match Preview

While the high expectations that usually follow England into a World Cup are nowhere to be found in Russia, there is still a sense the Three Lions owe their supporters something more following their poor showings from the last two tournaments as they open Group G play Monday in Volgograd.

England is making its sixth consecutive World Cup appearance since missing out in 1994, but it has been on a down cycle for most of this decade and has not been beyond the quarterfinals of a tournament since reach the semis of the 1996 European Championship as host. After finishing last in Group D in Brazil in which took one point in matches against Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica, the Three Lions were humbled two years later in France when upstart Iceland beat them 2-1 in the round of 16 in the Euros.

Manager Gareth Southgate, who replaced Sam Allardyce following his controversial sacking in 2016, has overhauled much of the squad in favor of a younger look. Of his expected starting XI, only Raheem Sterling has previous World Cup experience, and only Gary Cahill has more than 50 caps.

The blood and thunder approach prevalent in the Premier League has given way to the evolution of a three-man back and quick passing, a nod to the revolution Pep Guardiola brought to Manchester City that resulted in the first 100-point season in top-flight English football this past term.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

As is usually the case, the Three Lions cruised through qualifying, finishing eight points clear of Slovakia and Scotland in Group F as they did not lose a match and conceded just three times. Harry Kane led the way with five goals but England also had 12 different players bag at least one through the qualifying process.

England has never made back-to-back group play exits in its World Cup history but the country that invented football has not progressed beyond the quarterfinals since its fourth-place finish in 1990. The Three Lions won their only World Cup in 1966 on home soil and last reached the quarterfinals in 2006.

Tunisia is making its fifth World Cup appearance and first since 2006. The Eagles defeated Mauritania in a two-legged playoff to reach the final round and narrowly held off the Democratic Republic of Congo, finishing one point ahead after completing group play with a scoreless draw versus Libya.

Tunisia has just one World Cup victory to its credit, a 3-1 victory over Mexico in its maiden match in 1978. Tunisia has gone 0-4-7 since that victory, getting outscored 16-5 in that run.

One of those losses was a 2-0 defeat to England in France in 1998, a match in which Southgate started at center back for the Three Lions.

FORMATIONS

England’s formation will be a hybrid between a 3-3-2-2 and a 3-1-4-2 depending on how much license Southgate gives Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier to bomb forward. Jordan Henderson will serve as a defensive midfielder in front of the back three, with John Stones expected to use his passing skills to push forward when the opportunity presents itself.

Up front, Spurs teammates Kane and Dele Alli will be supported by Sterling and Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard. Alli, Sterling and Lingard all have speed to burn and could play underneath Kane, who can be a target forward as well as play the ball at his feet.

The lack of a seasoned veteran beyond Cahill is a concern. Pickford and fellow keepers Jack Butland and Nick Pope have a combined 12 caps among them, and starting defender Harry Maguire has made just five international appearances. Reserve Denny Welbeck is the most capped player up front with 39 appearances.

Tunisia will use a 4-2-3-1 formation in which central defenders Syam Ben Youssef and Yassine Meriah will be pivotal in reducing England’s scoring opportunities. Like England, there is a glaring lack of international experience throughout Tunisia’s roster, with defensive midfielders Saif-Eddine Kahoui and Ellyes Skhiri having four caps between them.

Up front, the Eagles of Carthage will ask much of Wahbi Kahzri to hold up play and harry England’s back line. He has 12 goals in 35 appearances for his country and is coming off a solid season on loan in Rennes, where he had nine goals for the French side.

Goalkeeper and talisman Aymen Mathlouthi has made 69 international appearances and is the only Tunisian player with more than a half-century worth of caps.

PLAYER TO WATCH

England – Harry Kane (F) 

Having been given the captain’s armband for the World Cup, there will be pressure on Kane to produce, especially after a 30-goal season for Tottenham. His goal-scoring pace down the stretch slowed due to injury, but the 24-year-old did score against Nigeria in one of England’s last friendlies before arriving in Russia.

Tunisia – Ellyes Skhiri (MF)

Despite having just two caps to his credit, Skhiri is in the middle of everything for the Eagles of Carthage and will be tasked with neutralizing Sterling through the middle while giving his team time to take shape defensively. The French-born Skhiri has seven goals for Montpellier but is better known as a box-to-box player working in tandem and will have to give service to Naim Sliti, the team’s primary offensive option in place of the injured Youssef Msakni.

RUMORED TO MOVE

Alli is expected to be partnered with Kane for the long haul at Tottenham as he is rumored to be nearing a contract extension. Kane is going to stick around in North London through 2024 after signing an extension earlier this month. Backup keeper Butland may be the most likely to move, with Premier League teams interested in prying him from Stoke City.

BETTING ANGLE

Per Ladbrokes, England is a heavy 4-9 favorite, while Tunisia checks in as a decided 8-1 underdog. There are also long odds for a draw at 3-1. For first goal-scorers, Kane is the front-runner at 11-5 odds, but Jamie Vardy is a surprising second at 13-5 as oddsmakers expect England to need time to break down Tunisia.

Sterling is getting 7-2 odds to give the Three Lions a 1-0 lead, and Alli is 4-1. On the Tunisian side, Khazri leads a trio of players who would return 10-1 odds for that shock scoreline.

PREDICTION

For all the reinvention Southgate has done with the England squad since its disastrous exit in France two years ago, the most important thing he has probably done is temper expectations for this squad with its supporters. He has plenty to work with going forward and has taken pains to get his players to play free, but there is still skepticism the Three Lions will bottle again at a major tournament setting.

When looking at the friendlies dating back to November, it is clear England is not an elite squad. There were draws against Germany and Brazil last November, a draw with an unfancied Italy squad at home and a win over the Netherlands. Its two send-off victories came against World Cup opponents, but both Costa Rica and Nigeria also face low expectations and lost their opening matches.

If England start fast and score early, it will do wonders for its confidence. The longer the match goes without a goal, the more dug in Tunisia will become and the job will become that much tougher. The Eagles of Carthage should not be taken lightly, they are Africa’s highest-ranked team in the latest FIFA rankings at No. 21 and were as high as 14th.

They more than held their own against teams above their punching weight, drawing Portugal, beating Iran and held Spain without a goal for 83 minutes in their final tune-up before suffering a 1-0 loss. The issue for Tunisia will be where its offense originates. Sliti may be its best threat going forward, but if Nabil Maaoul has his team sit deep in defense, he may be starved of service.

While England are the most likely second choice to Belgium to emerge from Group G, Tunisia thinks it can be that side as well since it will be favored against World Cup newcomer Panama. It may take a while, but the Three Lions should get their first World Cup victory since 2010 with a well-earned 1-0 victory.

UP NEXT

England will face Panama in its second group game Sunday in Nizhny Novogorod, while Tunisia will square off with Belgium in Moscow a day earlier.

2018 World Cup — Group F Sweden vs South Korea Match Preview

With Group F wide open following Mexico’s shock win over reigning champion Germany, Sweden and South Korea look to take full advantage Monday as they try to join El Tri atop the group in Nizhny Novgorod.

Sunday’s 1-0 victory by Mexico means everything is to play for as all four teams now have a chance to advance. Sweden is making its first World Cup appearance since 2006, having missed out on South Africa and Brazil.

South Korea is making its ninth consecutive appearance in football’s biggest tournament, but its only two progressions out of group play came with its fourth-place finish as co-host in 2002 and round of 16 exit eight years later.

There is already a hint of controversy to this match as Taegeuk Warriors coach Shin Tae-young admitted his players have been swapping jerseys to keep their strategy under wraps for this contest and made no efforts to hide his reasoning at the press conference.

“In my opinion, I think when the Europeans look at us Asians, I think it could be one of the reasons,” Shin said. “I think we wanted to confuse the Swedish team. That’s why we did that.

“We swapped them around because we didn’t want to show our opponents anything. Ki Sung-yueng is probably known, as is Son Heung-min, but for the other players it might be a little bit confusing.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Sweden ended its 12-year World Cup drought in surprising fashion. The Blagult finished runners-up to France in Group A of UEFA qualifying and then held Italy scoreless over the two-legged playoff, with Jakob Johansson’s goal in the first leg standing as the playoff winner.

When Sweden does qualify for a World Cup, it usually makes it a point to stick around. It has reached the round of 16 in its last two appearances, and before that, finished third in the United States in 1994. The Blagult’s best finish was a runners-up showing as hosts in 1958 when they lost to Brazil in the final.

After storming through second-round qualifying in Asia by winning all eight of its matches by a 27-0 scoreline, South Korea had a tougher time of it in the final round but still directly qualified for Russia by finishing second to Iran in Group A.

The Reds totaled just 11 goals in their 10 qualifiers and lost at both 2022 World Cup host Qatar and China during group play. They barely claimed the automatic berth, drawing Uzbekistan on the final match day while third-place Syria, needing a win at Iran to overtake South Korea, could only get a draw.

South Korea has won just four matches in group play in its eight previous World Cup appearances, with two coming as co-host in 2002. The Reds finished last in Group H in Brazil four years ago, claiming a draw with Russia in their opening matches before losing to Algeria and Belgium.

FORMATIONS

Both teams are expected to use 4-4-2 formations, but Sweden’s offense has failed to catch since the retirement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from international play. Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen continue to be his best options, but the Blagult were shut out in both of their most recent friendlies against Denmark and Peru and scored three goals while going 1-3-2 in the calendar year.

Sweden’s back line is its best asset with Mikael Granqvist and Victor Lindelof teaming in central defense, though Lindelof did have an uneven season at Manchester United. Sebastian Larsson, who is the only player with 100 caps on the squad, will patrol the midfield, and Emil Forsberg will try to use his pace to create opportunities for Berg and Toivonen.

South Korea has a dynamic midfield with captain Ki Sung-Yueng flanked by Lee Jae-Sung and Lee Sung-Woo. Up front, underrated Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-Min leads the line and is coming off a solid season in England in which he had 18 goals in all competitions. He also has 21 goals in 67 international appearances for the Reds.

Ki is the only centurion on South Korea with 102 caps, while Son is one of five other players with at least 50 appearances.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Sweden – Emil Forsberg (MF)

Though Sweden is in need of a goal-scorer, Forsberg will be counted on to at least create the scoring opportunities that lead to goals. The Leipzig midfielder had 21 assists in the 2016-17 season but struggled through an injury-plagued campaign that saw him total four goals and four assists. Forsberg did have four goals in qualifying for the Blagult, so he can force the issue if Berg and Toivonen are misfiring.

South Korea – Son Heung-Min (F)

Often hidden behind the large spotlight afforded to Harry Kane and Dele Alli, Son has an impressive work rate and has a knack of popping up in the right place at the right time to score goals. He scored seven goals during South Korea’s qualifying process and scored a pair of match-winners in friendlies over the past eight months.

RUMORED TO MOVE

Forsberg is rumored to be in the middle of a bidding war as Arsenal, Atletico Madrid and Juventus are reportedly lining up for his services and pondering the £50 million valuation Leipzig have put on the Sweden international.

With Swansea City relegated from the English Premier League, Ki has already declared he will leave the Wales side, with West Ham and AC Milan reportedly among those showing interest.

BETTING ANGLE

Per Ladbrokes, Sweden is listed as a 21-20 favorite, while South Korea gets a return of 3-1 to win. For those who think the match will end level, the odds are 2-1. For first goal-scorers, Berg gets top billing at 7-2, and compatriots Isaac Thelin and John Guidetti are 11-2 while Toivonen is 6-1. Son is South Korea’s top choice at 13-2 odds.

PREDICTION

Both teams sputtered in their World Cup run-ups, with South Korea winning just once in its last six matches and being shut out by both Bolivia and Senegal in its final two. While Son enjoyed success in Tottenham, his club teammates are light years better than his country ones, which means he will have to try and win one-on-one battles to find chances to score.

That will be a tall order against Granqvist and Lindelof, and it may mean he plays behind Hwang Hee-chan in a three-quarters role to better link up with Ki in the midfield.

Sweden has the same offensive issues, though its lack of star power is more glaring since Berg and Toivonen are not on Son’s level. Forsberg is going to have to put in a stellar performance and help draw fouls in the final third to make use of his dead-ball skills.

This will be a tight match that will see its share of spurned scoring chances, even if they are of half-quality. But with a chance to move three points clear of Germany before playing them, someone is going to emerge a winner. And it will be South Korea through Son.

World Cup Recap Match 11: Brazil 1, Switzerland 1 (June 17)

Four-time champion Brazil was held to a 1-1 draw by a physical Switzerland side Sunday in the World Cup opener for these Group F teams in Rostov-on-Don.

Steven Zuber’s header on a corner kick by Xherdan Shaqiri in the 50th minute did not come without controversy, however, as Brazil’s players implored referee Cesar Arturo Ramos Palazuelos to consult with the video assistant referee for a foul.

While replays showed Zuber clearly pushed Miranda from behind for the half-foot of space needed to drill Shaqiri’s inch-perfect left-footed inswinger, Palazuelos had a clear line of vision watching the play unfold, no call from the replay booth came and the Swiss were level.

Their plan of punishing Brazilian playmaker Neymar to slow down the game also worked. The star forward was fouled 10 times as he was knocked to the pitch repeatedly and had his jersey pulled on multiple occasions to slow him down with and without the ball. Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic, however, did not pay a high price for his team’s consistent fouling as it accrued only three yellow cards.

While the scars from their 7-1 hammering at the hands of Germany in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup in front of their fans were not fully evident in this game as Brazil showed plenty of jogo bonito, it mixed with moments of non-chalance that eventually proved costly.

Marcelo was the only player in this starting XI carried over from that disastrous match, and while Neymar had returned, it was still just his second start since a foot injury cost him more than three months

The only goal for the Selecao came courtesy of a world-class strike from Philippe Coutinho, who punished a poor headed clearance from the penalty area that came right to him just outside the top of the box on the left in the 20th minute. He took one touch to settle before uncorking a curling right-footed effort that kissed the right post and went in, a shot Swiss keeper Yann Sommer had no chance of stopping.

Brazil put Switzerland on its back foot early and should have gone ahead through Paulinho, whose effort from close range was scuffed enough that Sommer got a fingertip to to push it wide of the right post. Neymar, Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus had plenty of interplay early, and Sommer had to intervene and intercept a cross by Coutinho trying to pick out the Manchester City forward.

Just after the half-hour, Brazil had a gilt-edged change to double its lead. Neymar whipped in a cross from the left that Jesus met and sent back across goal, but no one was there to finish the play and the ball got all the way back to Neymar, who was whistled for offsides.

The Swiss, though, were finally finding a comfort level that carried from the end of the first half and into the second. Marcelo did well to cut out a through ball from Haris Seforovic intended for Blerim Dzemaili shortly before Zuber planted his header past Alisson.

The goal snapped Brazil into urgency, but it also became clear the lack of match fitness was affecting Neymar, who also was dealing with the residual pain recovering from his foot surgery. Tite’s first substitution was to lift Casemiro, who had picked up a yellow card shortly after the interval.

Brazil had another cause to shout for VAR in the 73rd minute when Jesus tumbled to the pitch in the penalty area while being defended by Manuel Akanji. While it appeared Akanji had briefly wrapped his arms around Jesus, there was no call to make Palazuelos review the play a second time.

While Brazil had the chances, Switzerland had spots of time with the ball on the counter. Shaqiri led one foray to set up Dzemaili, but he fired from 20 yards directly at Alisson to start the final quarter-hour. Tite introduced Coutinho’s former club teammate Roberto Firmino in the 77th minute for Jesus, and the Liverpool man volleyed a sharp-angled shot over the bar from the eight minutes from time.

Neymar latched onto a cross from Willian in the 88th minute, but Sommer was able to collect his downward header from 12 yards. Shaqiri once more tried to lead a counter down the right channel, but his tired legs betrayed him, and he fired a sliced shot wide in frustration.

The Selecao’s best chance to claim all three points came in the 90th minute when Firmino headed Neymar’s cross looking to pick out the lower left corner, but Sommer did well to dive in that direction to knock it away. Fernandinho did not react fast enough to the rebound as it was cleared from danger. Brazil had one last chance in stoppage time, but Neymar chipped his free kick into the penalty area and it failed to generate a quality chance.

The yellow cards to Stephan Lichtsteiner, Fabian Schar and Valeri Behrami were all for fouls on Neymar.

The draw ended a nine-match winning streak in World Cup openers for Brazil, which last failed to claim all three points in a 1-1 draw with Sweden in 1978. Both the Selecao and the Swiss are looking up to Serbia, which leads Group E on the strength of its 1-0 victory over Costa Rica earlier Sunday.

Brazil next faces Costa Rica in St. Petersburg on Friday while Switzerland will try to pull in Serbia later that day in Kaliningrad.

World Cup Recap Match 10: Mexico 1, Germany 0 (June 17)

Hiriving Lozano’s goal in the 35th minute to finish off a counterattack proved decisive as Mexico pulled off the first victorious upset of this World Cup by stunning defending champion Germany in the Group E opener at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

El Tri struck often and quickly on the counter, absorbing pressure from the four-time champion before rapidly flying forward upfield in the space vacated by right back Joshua Kimmich time and again.

Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio planned well for this game and made smart use of his substitutions, getting fresh legs in for the final half-hour after Carlos Vela ran himself into the ground and introducing 39-year-old defender Rafa Marquez for the final 15 minutes to help see the result through.

It was also a history-making cap for Marquez as he became just the fourth player in to appear in five World Cup tournaments, joining compatriot Antonio Carabajal, Germany’s Lotthar Matthaus and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

It was the first time in 33 years Mexico had beaten Germany in any match as El Tri also became the first CONCACAF side in eight World Cup matches (1-1-6) to defeat Die Mannschaft.

Germany looked sluggish throughout the contest, coming closest to finding an equalizer in the 40th minute when Toni Kroos had a free kick from 30 yards on the right that Memo Ochoa pushed onto the crossbar. It marked the third time in the last four World Cup tournaments the defending champion dropped its opening match as Germany joined France (2002), Italy (2010) and Spain (2014) on that dubious list.

It was also the first time Die Mannschaft dropped their World Cup opening match since a 2-1 loss to Algeria in 1982. While they will be favored in their remaining group matches against Sweden and South Korea, there is now the chance they will not advance out of group play for the first time since 1934.

Mexico, meanwhile, appear on its way to making the knockout round for the seventh consecutive World Cup. El Tri, of course, have yet to progress beyond the round of 16 since reaching the quarterfinals as hosts in 1986.

The title-holders failed to display their usual ruthless clinical finishing throughout the contest despite amassing 26 shots. There was a brief flurry midway through the second half in which Timo Werner blazed a volley over the bar from 12 yards and Joshua Kimmich’s bicycle kick narrowly went over as it landed on the net.

In the closing minutes of regulation, substitute Mario Gomez missed an open header, and fellow late entrant Julian Brandt glanced the outside of the left post with a 25-yard rocket Ochoa could only watch before being relieved as it ricocheted away.

Lozano’s goal started in Mexico’s half of the pitch where Sami Khedira lost the ball in possession. Hector Moreno started the counter with a pass to Chicharito Hernandez in the center circle, and the striker played a 1-2 with Andres Guardado to build up a head of a steam.

Running on Chicharito’s left was Lozano, who was played into the penalty area. Lozano gathered the ball, cut hard to his right around Mesut Ozil and took another step to his right before lashing a 10-yard shot that beat Manuel Neuer low to the near post.

The first half had plenty of pace on both sides, with Mexico refusing to cede any ground. Germany defender Jerome Boateng made a last-gasp block of a shot in the second minute, and Werner fizzed a shot wide of the left post past a diving Ochoa moments later.

Mats Hummels had an effort from distance right at Ochoa, and Hector Herrera did likewise from 25 yards for El Tri that did not trouble Neuer much. A handball by Kroos gave Mexico a free kick in a threatening position just before the quarter-hour, but Moreno’s downward header was too close to Neuer.

Kimmich provided an inch-perfect cross that Khedira could not re-direct into the goal from close range, though Mexico defender Carlos Salcedo came perilously close to slotting it into his net for an own goal.

While Germany had a lion’s share of possession after Lozano’s goal, Mexico often proved dangerous on the counter and should have done better on a few occasions. Hernandez had a penalty shout rightfully turned down after being sent through the midfield by Miguel Layun in the 70th minute, and Guardado failed to get a good look on target before that after Hernandez’s pass across the box was too wide for Lozano, who then tried to find Guardado.

In the 77th minute, Julian Draxler flashed to the top of the penalty area as Mexico was out of sorts defending a corner, but his instinctive volley following a pass from Kroos was deflected over the line by Edson Alvarez.

Each team collected two yellow cards, with Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels picking up cautions for Germany while Moreno and Hector Herrera did likewise for Mexico.

Next up for Mexico is South Korea at Rostov-on-Don on Saturday, while Germany will look to regroup versus Sweden later that day.