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Brazil need serious improvement

The five-time champions can look forward to a last-16 date with Mexico and are also celebrating the elimination of Germany but work needs to be done.

There were more than a few cheers from the Brazilian contingent inside the Spartak Stadium compound as word got through of Germany’s defeat to Korea in Kazan.

On one hand, they felt a dose of humiliation for the team that inflicted upon them the Mineirazo of their own World Cup semi-final defeat four years ago was in order.

And it was also as if those supporting the team in yellow had thrown themselves forward to the World Cup’s later stages and imagined it being a whole lot easier now that the defending champions were out at the group stages.

That was not to overlook Serbia because even by that stage Brazil were not technically qualified for the last 16 and their opponents were still alive too.

Brazil now have a date against Mexico on July 2 in Samara to look forward to – but it’s far too early to be celebrating a potential obstacle like Germany being removed.

The worry is that Tite still has plenty of work of his own ahead of him if he is to avoid a fate like Joachim Low suffered. And the injury to Marcelo is a thorn in the side he could have done without.

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Serbia are a good team – not a great one – and probably the third best team in the group as play opened. The challenges will become stronger for Brazil and it will take more than they showed in the group stages to surmount them.

As far back as the inter friendlies the warning signs were there that Brazil would have a puzzle to solve against high-quality European opposition. England worked them out at Wembley in November, defending superbly without the ball, and Switzerland’s opening-game draw here in Russia owed plenty to that discipline too. It needed real magic on the day just to get a draw.

And against Costa Rica too they failed to meet expectations. Sure, a 2-0 win was secure but it was late and untidy. And here for spells they had questions to answer.

It’s true that they played a little more freely after Thiago Silva scored their second goal. There appeared to be a collective exhale from the five-time world champions as the brief second-half onslaught from the Serbians came to an abrupt end.

There were good chances for Aleksandar Mitrovic to level things but the second goal was all about belief. Brazil gained it, Serbia lost it once Neymar’s corner was converted.

But the inspiration for the win did not come from the PSG man under the spotlight; it again flowed from his creative sidekick Philippe Coutinho.

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The Barcelona midfielder is rapidly becoming the team’s go-to man when it comes to constructing attacks. He has goals under his belt from the opening two games and it was his exceptional through ball for Paulinho which got Brazil off and running against Serbia.

In truth, Neymar still looks a little undercooked – whether through issues of form or fitness – and was more isolated here than he might otherwise have preferred.

Casemiro meanwhile, at the base of midfield, is key to the way Tite is asking his team to play.

The manager has spent two painstaking years reassembling Brazil and giving them back their style. Their 2014 World Cup meltdown under Luiz Felipe Scolari seems a long way away now following an awesome qualification phase. There is an assuredness and a confidence both in and out of possession but there is no doubt that they are bogged down a little when faced with European opponents.

They have seven points and are top of the group but they are still without a defining performance at these championships. The likes of France, Portugal – or even England and Belgium – won’t be quaking in their boots just yet.

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