DOHA, Nov 29 — Doha’s Stadium 974 thrummed to the samba beat on Monday night as Brazilian fans brought Latin American swagger to this patch of Qatar and Casemiro fired Brazil into the knockout stages of the 2022 World Cup finals with a 1-0 victory over Switzerland.
The midfielder’s spectacular 83rd minute goal sent Brazil through with a game to spare and lit a touch paper to a contest that up to then had struggled to smoulder.
“Thank God we scored that goal,” Casemiro said. “We were patient…it was an annoying game.”
But the sea of Brazilian fans will not care about any of that as 80 or so minutes of sloppy passing and directionless play was forgotten in the hysteria of the final minutes.
Tens of thousands of yellow shirts had painted the inside of this quirky stadium bright yellow, broken up only by small pockets of local fans in traditional white robes and a smattering of red Swiss shirts.
It was hard to believe this was a match being played on the Arabian Peninsula, for it had every setting of a home game for the Brazilians – from the thunderous roars accompanying every fancy move to the rhythmic beat drummed out throughout.
But if the supporters had planned for a party, the student of football might well have suspected otherwise. The two previous World Cup meetings between these two sides had ended in draws – 2-2 in 1950, and 1-1 in 2018.
The Brazilians had only won three of their nine match-ups with Switzerland in total, with four drawn and two losses.
This Monday night clash looked to be heading for another stalemate before Casemiro’s moment of pure magic – one which saw him named man-of-the-match.
With Brazil increasingly desperate, half-time substitute Rodrygo played a first time ball to Casemiro who struck it with the outside of his foot and it glided – in time-honoured Brazilian fashion – past Yann Sommer in goal.
The Swiss keeper could only watch in horror as the ball bulged the side of the inside of his goal. Cue cacophony.
But while Rodrygo provided the assist, Casemiro and Brazil owe the bigger debt of gratitude to Vinicius Jr for the goal – Brazil’s newest superstar had drawn three increasingly desperate defenders onto him in a smart move which created rare space for the goal.
As important as Monday’s victory was for Brazil, perhaps of more importance was the performance of Vinicius Jr – Vini to his team mates.
The 22-year-old underlined his credentials as the perfect replacement for Neymar, a player who seems to physically break down every time Brazil need him the most.
The PSG superstar missed Monday’s match and is unable to play the final dead group game as he recovers from yet another ankle injury suffered in Brazil’s debut against Serbia.
But with a plug-and-play genius like Vinicius Jr ready to take on the mantle of chief playmaker, Tite and the whole of Brazil can rest easy.
Winded by a cruel moment of Brazilian brilliance, the Swiss slumped and the match could well have ended two or 3-0, but that would have been unduly harsh on the Europeans who, for the most part, blunted their opponents.
The Swiss, though, can take heart from their performance and a win against Serbia in their final group match will send them through along with Brazil, and a draw could even be enough.
“I can’t really blame the team, they did a good job today,” said Swiss coach Murat Yakin.
“We have a lot of good takeaways for the next game – one we have control over.”