ROSTOV-ON-DON, RUSSIA – APBrazil joined the list of big teams struggling to win their opening matches at the World Cup in Russia.
The five-time champion was held to a 1-1 draw by Switzerland on Sunday, a few hours after four-time champion Germany was beaten by Mexico 1-0.
Serbia got it’s campaign off to a winning start earlier in the day, with Aleksandar Kolarov scoring from a left-footed free kick in the 56th minute in a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica.
Philippe Coutinho, who was making his World Cup debut, gave Brazil the lead in the 20th minute with a volley that bounced in off the right post. Steven Zuber then headed in the equalizer in the 50th. Mexican referee Cesar Ramos dismissed complaints Zuber had shoved defender Miranda before getting to the corner from Xherdan Shaqiri.
“I was pushed out of the way. There is video of what happened and the referee could have seen it. But it didn’t happen,” Miranda said. “We got a draw but this is only the beginning for us. We knew this game wasn’t going to be easy.”
Ramos also ignored a penalty claim late in the second half when Gabriel Jesus was wrestled to the ground by Switzerland defender Manuel Akanji.
Swiss players ended up with three yellow cards, and 10 of the 14 fouls they committed were on Brazil forward Neymar.
Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic described the incident against Miranda as an “ordinary challenge.” He also dismissed charges Neymar had been treated harshly.
“Of course, neutralizing Neymar was a key ingredient of our game,” he added.
Switzerland dominated the midfield for long spells against a Brazil team that had been keen to start with a win after its disastrous exit as host in 2014.
“I am proud of their determination,” Petkovic said of his team. “The first 40 minutes were tough for us, and at halftime I told the players to stay cool and press forward. They did, and it worked.”
Coutinho had another chance to put Brazil in the lead but he sent the ball wide in the 67th minute.
“I’m very glad to score but what was important was our effort to win and what we did as a team is what counts,” Coutinho said. “We had some great moments and positive moments. Now we need to think about the next match.”
Brazil has won 17 of its 22 matches since Tite took over as coach in 2016. But they couldn’t get another one in front of a very Brazil-friendly crowd at the Rostov Arena.
Besides Brazil and Germany, Argentina was held to a 1-1 draw by Iceland on Saturday, and Spain and Portugal played to a 3-3 draw on Friday.
Tite said he wouldn’t make excuses for the disappointing scoreline.
“What happened with Miranda was clear, but it doesn’t explain the result,” Tite said. “There was a lot of pressure and anxiety on the players and that translated into the finishes that were not precise. We had 20 finishes but we should have made the goalkeeper work harder.
“But of course I’m not happy with the result and of course I wanted to win tonight.”
The Brazilians remain haunted by their 7-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals, a defeat that was followed by a 3-0 defeat against the Netherlands in the third-place playoff.
In Samara, Kolarov’s strike to lift Serbia immediately drew some comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo. His curling free kick came only two days after Ronaldo scored a similar goal to give Portugal a 3-3 draw with Spain.
“It was an amazing goal,” Costa Rica defender Bryan Oviedo said of Kolarov’s effort. “Maybe two out 10 balls will go in like that.”
After Costa Rica midfielder David Guzman was handed a yellow card, Kolarov stepped up and curled his shot over the wall and into the net in the 56th minute. Keylor Navas, the Costa Rica goalkeeper who plays for Real Madrid, stretched but couldn’t stop the swerving ball.
It was the third free kick goal so far at the World Cup: Russia midfielder Aleksandr Golovin had one in stoppage time in the 5-0 tournament opener against Saudi Arabia and Ronaldo capped his hat trick against Spain with the other.
“We knew that set pieces were our forte,” said Kolarov, who now plays for Roma after a stint with Manchester City. “We practiced them on the training ground. I practiced set pieces, and this was enough for three points.”
The victory gave the Serbians the early advantage in a tough Group E, which also includes five-time champion Brazil and Switzerland.
“It’s especially important that we have three points in the bag,” Kolarov said. “The match against Switzerland is going to be the most difficult one. Of course we want to win. Let’s see what the game brings. There’s not much time to celebrate. We will celebrate, but up to a point. Not excessively.”