Neymar, Brazil sleepwalk through World Cup opener against Swiss

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Brazil’s first chance to build toward another World Cup title since the infamous 7-1 home loss to Germany in 2014 did little to suggest that the five-time champions will add a sixth crown to their record haul in Russia.

The Selecao settled for a 1-1 tie against a resilient Switzerland in the tournament opener for both nations Sunday in Rostov-on-Don. Philippe Coutinho’s curling, right-footed blast off the post left keeper Yann Sommer grasping at air just 20 minutes in.

 

But Steven Zuber pulled the Swiss level early in the second half:


The result left Serbia, which beat Costa Rica in Samara earlier Sunday, all alone atop Group E. The Brazilians will face the Ticos on Friday – a match that just got a lot more important – before meeting the Serbians in their first-round finale.

Where was Neymar?

Brazil’s headliner recently returned from a broken foot he suffered playing for club side Paris Saint-Germain. Despite the long layoff, Neymar appeared at least somewhat close to his all-world best in his team’s two pre-tourney tune-ups, scoring in friendly wins against both Austria and Croatia.

But while it wasn’t surprising to see the 26-year-old in coach Tite’s starting lineup against the Swiss, it quickly became clear that it would be a long night for Neymar, who is perhaps further away from full fitness than previously thought. It didn’t help that he was the obvious focus for Swiss coach Vladimir Petkovic, who made sure the most dangerous player on the field was surrounded at all times. (Defensive midfielder Valon Behrami paid particularly close attention to Neymar, drawing a yellow card for a cynical kick to his ankles minutes before being subbed out.)

The closest Neymar came to scoring was on a hopeful shot from outside the box in the 78th minute that Sommer easily gobbled up. The fact that it was Sommer’s first save of the night said it all — Neymar didn’t even bother to put his free kick at the death on goal, opting for a cross instead.

It’s only one game, to be sure. But Neymar joined Argentina’s Lionel Messi as superstars whose first-match performance left a lot to be desired, especially compared to Cristiano Ronaldo’s unforgettable night against Spain.

It’s hard to see Brazil seriously contending for the trophy unless its star man finds his game, and quick.

Neymar gets up after falling to the ground during Brazil’s draw with Switzerland. (Getty)
Neymar gets up after falling to the ground during Brazil’s draw with Switzerland. (Getty)

Don’t underestimate the Swiss

They narrowly beat Northern Ireland in a playoff to get to Russia, making it easy to scoff at the Schweizer Nati’s No. 6 FIFA ranking in the run-up to the main event. There’s a reason why it’s the Swiss’ highest-ever position, though.

Petkovic’s team is exceptionally well coached defensively, and it showed on Sunday. Despite making 20 attempts toward Sommer’s goal (including four shots on target and another nine off frame), Brazil created few genuine scoring chances. The best three may have come after the 90th minute; first Sommer fought off Roberto Firmino’s point-blank header, then central defender Joao Miranda pulled a shot wide before Neymar’s squandered free kick. But Switzerland more than held its own, keeping the ball on almost even terms until Brazil got desperate near the end.

Still, the Swiss held firm. And they fully deserved their share of the spoils.

Things just got interesting in Group E

The pressure is now on Brazil to pick up all three points against Costa Rica in their next match. The two teams played an epic group stage game in 2002 that Brazil won 5-2, but this one should be closer since Ticos need a win of their own after falling to the Serbs.

Anything less than a point and their tournament is over. Sunday’s results also all but guarantees that at least three of the four squads will have everything to play for when Matchday 3 arrives on June 27.

Doug McIntyre covers soccer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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