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MLS stars feature for Costa Rica against Brazil

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Brazil and Costa Rica squared off in front of 64448 spectators at the Saint Petersburg Stadium and the tiny CONCACAF nation came within minutes of a World Cup sensation holding Brazil to a 0-0 draw until the 90th minute, but the Seleção’s quality shone through in the dying moments of the game as Brazil scored two goals in injury time to win 2-0.

Despite being left of the scoresheet against Serbia, Marcos Ureña got the call against Brazil on his second match day of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. He was not the only Major League Soccer star to feature in the starting lineup – Portland’s David Guzman featured in midfield.

Vancouver’s Kendall Waston and New York City FC’s Rodney Wallace started the match on the bench and did not play. Minnesota’s Francisco Calvo, in the meantime, was subbed on in the 75th minute.

It was, however, Brazil that would dictate much of the opening 10 minutes. Passing the ball smoothly among its ranks, the Seleção attempted to slowly but surely tighten the noose around Los Ticos’ defense.

With that sort of approach, it appeared to be only a matter of time before Brazil would score. But instead, it was Costa Rica with the first major chance of the match.

Breaking through on the right was Cristian Gamboa. The right winger had an easy time shaking off Marcelo and then passed the ball to the center, where the ball found Celso Borges. His shot in the 13th minute, however, just missed the far post of Alisson’s goal.

Sitting deep clearly was Costa Rica’s strategy. Los Ticos wanted to make use of the overlapping runs by both of Brazil’s wing-backs by quickly countering when winning possession, breaking into the open space left by Marcelo, on the left, and Fagner, on the right.

Adding to that strategy, Costa Rica also interrupted Brazil’s buildup play with countless little fouls that made it hard for the Seleçãoto find a way through Costa Rica’s defensive line.

As a result, Brazil was attempting to find other ways to get through. Philippe Coutinho saw a curled effort from outside the box go just inches over the net (31’), and Neymar played a dangerous ball into the box that had to be collectively cleared by goalkeeper Keylor Navas and two Costa Rica defenders (33’).

With 40 minutes gone and the scoreline still at 0-0, Los Ticos’ fan block at the Saint Petersburg Stadium started to make their voices heard. The yellow-and-blue dressed Brazil fans, in the meantime, began to look on in stunned silence as their team failed to break down Costa Rica in the first 45 minutes.

That deadlock appeared to be broken in the opening minutes of the second half. In the 47th minute, Keylor Navas was brought into a dangerous situation after Costa Rica defender Oviedo misplayed the ball to Paulinho and the keeper had to risk his neck to get to the ball.

Just one minute later Gabriel Jesus hit the crossbar with a fantastic header and Coutinho jumped on the rebound, but the Barcelona midfielder saw his shot deflected and it sailed just inches wide of Navas’ goal.

Then in the 55th minute, Ureña’s afternoon was over. The Los Angeles FC striker was tasked as the first man in Los Ticos’ pressing play and, as a result, was unable to contribute much offensively. The more defensive minded former Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Bolaños subbed on and Ureña off.

“We needed the pace of Venegas and Bolaños up front,” Óscar Ramírez later explained.

The message was clear, hold the result and perhaps hope for a successful counterattack.

The tactical change worked in that it stopped Brazil’s initial onslaught. Costa Rica, in turn, once again seemed well organized, allowing no openings until the 72nd minute when Neymar won the ball in the midfield and was allowed to run unmarked onto Navas’ goal, but instead of closing in, the Paris Saint-Germain star opted to strike the ball from 18 yards and saw his shot zip just over the crossbar.

Brazil seemed to have finally gotten a break when referee Björn Kuipers pointed to the penalty spot in the 78th minute. Replays, however, highlighted that there was very little contact between Giancarlo Gonzalez and Neymar and the penalty was chalked off.

The Seleção reacted with frustration and shortly after both Neymar and Coutinho were booked for aggressive play. Brazil’s fans, in the meantime, reacted with discontent. Boos and cheers rang through the arena on the Krestovsky Island as Costa Rica was inching toward a World Cup upset.

At this level, small mistakes can make all the difference, however. Seconds after the referee team announced an additional six minutes of play, Roberto Firmino was given too much room to turn in the penalty box and his tap found Coutinho, who made no mistake while scoring the winner from just six yards out. With seconds to go, Brazil’s Neymar added a second goal in the 96th minute.

“We had some good chances; we managed the game quite well. After all, we played against a very good national team, and I think we did well,” head coach Ramírez explained after the match. “I think Costa Rica is always a very strong team, physical at least, so this was not a problem of physicality. Other things failed, please remember we played against an excellent team and we failed to repeat our run from 2014 because we didn’t finish our chances.”

With two defeats in two games, Costa Rica’s MLS stars will now have a meaningless game against Switzerland. Brazil’s World Cup dream, however, lives on.

Lineups

Brazil (4-3-3): Alisson – Marcelo, Miranda, Thiago Silva, Fagner – Coutinho, Casemiro, Paulinho (Roberto Firmino, 67’) – Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Willian (Douglas Costa, 46’)

Costa Rica (3-4-3): Navas – Duarte, Acoste, Gonzalez – Oviedo, Borges, Guzman (Tejeda, 84’), Gamboa (Calvo, 76’) – Ruiz, Urena (Bolanos, 55’), Venegas

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