Brazil flex muscles to power into round of 16
SO much for Brazil's mini crisis.
Normal service has been resumed, after the South American superstars clinched top spot in Group E with a comfortable 2-0 defeat of Serbia to earn a clash with Mexico in the round of 16.
The memory of their opening draw with Switzerland receded a little further after goals from Paulinho and Thiago Silva dispensed with a valiant but too-often frustrating Serbian side.
There was an urgency to the Brazilian play that spoke volumes about the predicament they were in. Goals were needed to avoid the embarrassment of finishing second in their group - let alone the unthinkable catastrophe of a win for Serbia threatening them with elimination.
Just 10 minutes in the Brazil cause was diminished as Marcelo, the marauding fullback, wandered from the field in some discomfort, apparently having suffered a back spasm.
But against a cautious Serbian side the Brazilians were determined to force the pace.
Neymar's twinkling feet were at the heart of much of it, though an unsentimental observer might say that Coutinho was actually the more effective attacking outlet. The Barcelona man's eye for the quick and devastating pass stands in contrast to Neymar's need to over-embellish, for all that he remains the fulcrum of their forward momentum.
It's also true though that Neymar's ability in any given moment can be utterly breathtaking.
As Gabriel Jesus burrowed into the Serbian box the ball deflected into Neymar's path. With two almost concurrent touches he had killed the ball and flicked it goalward, only to be denied by Vladmir Stojkovic.
Still, the goalkeeper could do nothing when Brazil did score nine minutes from halftime, with a goal that showed the value of the unsung members of their ensemble.
Every Serbian defender was close to their man when Coutinho gathered the ball on the left wing, but the one they hadn't picked up was Paulinho sitting deep in the centre circle.
With a sudden burst of pace he had sprinted towards the penalty area to meet a perfect chipped pass from Coutinho, and nudged the ball past the on-rushing Stojkovic.
It was devastatingly simple, just as their second was, in a different way. Brazil badly needed another goal after a flurry of Serbian attacks at the start of the second half, and found it through the simplicity of a corner.
Neymar was the taker, drilling the ball to the near post where Thiago Silva headed home.
Given the buffer, Brazil largely relaxed, saving themselves for Mexico.
That should be another special night at this special World Cup.