Brazil clinch first win; Nigeria victorious

AGENCIES
ST PETERSBURG, 22nd June: Late strikes by Philippe Coutinho and Neymar gave Brazil their first win of the World Cup in thrilling fashion against Costa Rica in St. Petersburg on Friday and sent the Central Americans crashing out of the tournament. he clock had ticked past 90 minutes, and the five-times champions looked to be edging to a second disappointing draw, when Marcelo floated the ball in from the left and substitute Roberto Firmino headed across to Gabriel Jesus.

Jesus’s first touch took the ball away from the defender and into the path of Coutinho who raced in to poke past goalkeeper Keylor Navas from six metres out for his second goal of the tournament. The result leaves Brazil with four points from two games after they drew 1-1 with Switzerland in their opening match, and they provisionally rise above Serbia to top Group E.

Neymar added the second with practically the last kick of the match, volleying home following a quick counter-attack as Costa Rica pushed for an equaliser. With the game still scoreless 13 minutes from time, Neymar collapsed under a soft challenge in the box and thought he had won a penalty for his misfiring side.

Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers pointed to the spot before heeding the protests of the Costa Rican players and consulting the video assistant referee (VAR). Replays showed there was minimal contact and Kuipers reversed his decision as Brazil’s frustration reached fever pitch. Time and again they hurled themselves at the Costa Rican goal only to be repelled until their opponent’s resistance finally broke.

Neymar, overcome by emotion on the whistle, covered his face with his hands as tears streamed down his cheeks. That was an apt reflection of how tense the match had been, with Costa Rica’s flat-back five keeping Neymar on the periphery, as Johan Venegas and Cristian Gamboa man-marked him out of the game. Ahmed Musa struck both goals as Nigeria boosted their World Cup qualification hopes with a 2-0 defeat of Iceland, a result that is also good news for Argentina.

Lionel Messi's team were pushed to the brink of an early exit after a stunning 3-0 loss to Croatia on Thursday, but victory in their final Group D game against Nigeria could now send them through to the last 16. Musa was left out of Nigeria's loss to Croatia but he justified his recall to the side with the opening goal shortly after the interval at the Volgograd Arena on Friday.

The forward controlled a cross from Victor Moses and thumped an unstoppable drive into the roof of the net, with Musa becoming the Super Eagles' top scorer in the history of the tournament courtesy of his third World Cup goal. Nigeria were poor in the first half - failing to record a single shot - but they were much improved after the break, Musa adding another to his personal tally in the 75th minute as Iceland's rock-like resilience crumbled.

After Gylfi Sigurdsson missed a late penalty, Heimir Hallgrimsson's side could be heading home from their first World Cup unless they beat already qualified Croatia and Argentina do not take three points against Nigeria, although goal difference could yet come into play.


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