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FIFA World Cup: Casemiro’s goal against Switzerland takes Brazil into last 16 with a game to spare

Even before Casemiro scored Brazil’s match-defining goal, a goal of brutal beauty, similar to the ones he has scored for his ex-club Real Madrid and Brazil, he was the most valuable player on the pitch.

Brazil's Casemiro celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the World Cup group G soccer match between Brazil and Switzerland, at the Stadium 974 in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Somehow, almost inevitably, the Brazilian goal had to come from the boot of Casemiro, the tireless defensive midfielder than the gilded but Neymar-less frontline. To understand the cult following of Casemiro, one just needs to tune in one’s ears — no, the noise will hit you even if you don’t squeeze your ears — when he gets the ball at his feet. The mass of green and yellow begins to chant his name, in rhythmic loudness, they bang their feet on the floor, sometimes so hard that the 974 Stadium, built off containers from ships, could feel an earthquake-like vibration. The beat of drums gets heavier; the music would get louder. The glass barricade risks breaking due to the vibrations.

Even before he scored Brazil’s match-defining goal, a goal of brutal beauty, similar to the ones he has scored for his ex-club Real Madrid and Brazil, he was the most valuable player on the pitch. Sometimes, it takes the profligacy of the forwards to appreciate the value of a midfielder in an attack-oriented team as Brazil. They tend to go unnoticed otherwise.

But not today. Casemiro might not be the captain, but he is the de facto captain, shouting at his teammates to keep their focus, yelling at them to keep their composure, chiding when they are inclined too often to the flashy stuff. He was livid at Vinicius Junior for not timing his run smartly enough to beat the off-side trap, which saw a goal chalked off in the 64th minute.

It was a grinding win for Brazil, as much as a case of Swiss showing their characteristic resilience as Brazil forwards strumming discordant notes, their brilliance clanking like chandeliers on a stormy night. It was a win fashioned out of grit and will, and few players, not just in Brazil, but the world embodies that spirit as much as Casemiro does. So much so that Zinedine Zidane, with whom he completed a hat-trick of Champions League titles, calls him the Tank. “The success of Real Madrid depends on the success of Casemiro. He wins you games with his drive alone.”

It was his insatiable drive that culminated in the goal. He had no business prowling the inside left-channel in the Swiss half. Often, one sees him withdrawing backwards when Brazil’s forwards and attacking midfielders are in the opposition box. But here, Brazil desperately needed a goal, just seven minutes remained and a surge of energy, a spring of belief had to come from somewhere. Casemiro visualised, anticipated and uncoiled a ferocious first-time shot, redeeming an otherwise disjointed, error-strewn Brazilian performance. Nonetheless, as champions often do, they found a way. Even Tite leapt from his perch on the touchline as progress to the Round of 16 was secured.

Tite’s expressions conveyed the frustration of Brazil in the first half — and the crowd that had swelled at the 974 Stadium hoping, praying for a continuum of Brazil’s last 30 minutes against Serbia. Rather, they reacquainted with the first-half wastefulness. Tite would prance beside the touchline, hands in air, face contorted, he would kick the turf in angst, bark out instructions, hide his face in a fitful rage and grimace in the direction of the dugout. The ponderous nature of their game was frustrating him, as it did the impatient crowd, waiting for that burst of magic.

Missed chances

There were semi-magical moments; when Vinicius Junior turned a pair of shirt-hugging marksmen over; he then nutmegged the hapless Manuel Akanji, he would out-trick most. When a ripe moment arrived to put Brazil in front, when the effervescent Raphinha swung a ripping cross, Vinicius just had to slap the ball in. Instead, he weakly side-footed a shot to goalkeeper Yann Sommer. Almost immediately, he was forced to make another save, off a vicious Raphinha curler. But the Swiss custodian didn’t have to move an inch, though the save might have stung his palms. Raphinha himself could have scored had he managed a toe or a stud onto a curler from Vinicius. Tite would fling his hands in anger.


The Swiss ’keeper was otherwise untroubled, though he owes gifts to his sturdy centre-back pair of Akanji and Nico Elvedi. On rare moments when the Swiss slipped past the prowling vigil of Casemiro, who retrieved endless balls, they furnished memos of their own attacking prowess. Breel Embolo slit through once; so did Remo Freueler, snatching the ball from the feet of Lucas Pacqueta.

Brazil clearly missed the intelligence and vibrancy of Neymar. Blessed though they might be with attacking riches on the bench, no one is quite like Neymar. No one could sparkle as dazzlingly as he could. Surprising was that Tite chose Fred to replace him, though not a like for like. He was paired with Casemiro at the base of midfield, and pushed Pacqueta upfield. The understated Pacqueta could dictate a game with his passing and vision, but he is not in Neymar-range to pull a rabbit out of the habit.

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Half-time changes were inevitable. Tite displaced Pacqueta with Rodrygo to furnish an attacking thrust. It found the desired result after a brief spell of Swiss domination that could have resulted in a goal but for Thiago’s presence of mind and Casemiro’s energy. Granit Xhaka sent Fabian Rieder through in vast expanses of space, but the latter could only muster a feeble shot. Shortly, Allison showboating almost cost him dearly. He tried a feint on Embolo who kept pressing him, and in his desperation to clear the ball hit straight back at Embolo’s body, though the rebound fell safely for the Brazilian goalkeeper. Here again, Casemiro was at the forefront of the mopping-up job, and in the end, he did the demolition job too.

First published on: 28-11-2022 at 23:37 IST
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