Neymar sizzles as Brazil waltzes through to second round

The five-time champion defeated Serbia 2-0 to get its World Cup campaign back on track.

Brazil's players greet the fans after their win at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow.   -  AFP

Brazil and star striker Neymar rediscovered their attacking flair with a confidence-boosting 2-0 win over Serbia on Wednesday to get its World Cup campaign back on track. The victory fired Brazil into the last 16 and sent the Selecao's fans into party mode at Moscow's Spartak Stadium, raising hopes a sixth title is now a realistic prospect.

It was a stark contrast to their first two outings — a shock 1-1 draw with Switzerland and laboured 2-0 win over Costa Rica — that left Brazil needing a draw against Serbia to avoid a group stage exit.

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But unlike defending champion Germany, which was eliminated hours earlier after losing to South Korea, the South Americans managed to produce when it mattered. They comprehensively outplayed Serbia, peppering their goal while restricting their opponents to just one shot on target.

Brazil coach Tite says his team can handle being made World Cup favourite. “We don't live off expectations, we live off reality,” said the Brazil boss. “We can take the pressure, we are a balanced team and for us, this is about getting stronger and growing.”

As Group E winner, Brazil will now face Mexico in Samara on Monday, with group runner-up Switzerland taking on Sweden in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. In the pre-match build-up Brazil coach Tite said Neymar alone cannot “shoulder the responsibility” for his team's World Cup hopes.

IN PICTURES: Brazil vs Serbia

However, the 26-year-old seemed content to carry Brazil's attack, motoring through Serbia's midfield and crashing an early shot just wide of the post. The match at Moscow's Spartak Stadium began at a ferocious tempo and Brazil left-back Marcelo was an early casualty, limping off after ten minutes to be replaced by Filipe Luis.

Neymar had the best chance of the opening half hour when he forced Serbia goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic to palm his shot away. Tempers frayed when Serbia midfielder Adem Ljajic scythed down Neymar, in full flight on the left flank, to earn a booking on 33 minutes.

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Brazil conjured the opener from nothing when a beautifully lofted pass from Philippe Coutinho found Paulinho, who flicked the ball over Stojkovic's reach on 36 minutes to make it 1-0 at the break.

Serbia repeatedly struggled to contain Brazil's fleet-footed attack. Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic was the next Serbian midfielder to be booked when he fouled Manchester City star Gabriel Jesus on 48 minutes.

WATCH: Highlights - Serbia 0-2 Brazil

Serbia's brightest spell came with half an hour left, only to be let down by poor finishing. Ljajic stumbled to take a return pass after a charging run into Brazil's box and then fired over shortly after. Then with his defence beaten, Brazil goalkeeper Alisson palmed a save straight at Aleksandar Mitrovic, but the Serbia forward could only head the ball back into the grateful arms of the Brazilian shotstopper.

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To cap Serbia's frustrations, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic fired wide, then Mitrovic guided a powerful header straight at Alisson from a corner. “We tried to win against a powerhouse in modern football, we took more risks in the second half, but didn't take our chances and were punished,” admitted Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic.

Brazil made sure of the win when Neymar swung in a free-kick and his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Thiago crashed home his header, unmarked at the near post, on 68 minutes. With one eye on the last 16, Tite took off Countinho with ten minutes left while Neymar twice went close to scoring the Selecao's third late on, but the Brazil coach can be happy with his star forward.

(Video courtesy: FIFA TV)

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