DOHA, Qatar — Brazil’s problem, in the end, was not so much that Neymar missed his country’s second game at the World Cup. Brazil still had plenty of scoring options, after all, arguably more than any other team in the tournament. But the rules of soccer require that the ball actually goes into the net to count, and through 82 agonizing and frustrating minutes Brazil’s array of attacking talent simply could not make that happen.
Richarlison sent a shot wide. Raphinha probed the right side. Vinícius Júnior had a goal disallowed for offside. Rodrygo came on, and then so did Bruno Guimaraes and Antony and Gabriel Jesus. Nothing.
So with an entire nation methodically reducing its supply of fingernails, it was a sturdy veteran midfielder, Casemiro, who strolled up from his position deep in midfield and did the job himself. The goal he delivered, a slicing outside-of-the-foot shot, was special, and it was the only one Brazil would score in its 1-0 victory against Switzerland. But it was enough to clinch a place in the knockout stages with a game to spare, and for a country whose first priority is to win — however the job gets done — no one in Brazil was complaining about who had scored it.
“Of course we miss a player like Neymar,” Brazil Coach Tite said. “The team loses a lot without him. But we also have other players who can get the job done, as we saw it today.”
Switzerland will have to be fine with the result, too. It had throttled and frustrated Brazil all night, and it can still advance to the knockout rounds with a win or a tie against Serbia in its final game of the group stage. But it did not produce a single shot on target on Monday, and it was perhaps fortunate to have been in a scoreless game so close to its end.
The Swiss had even fallen behind at one point, on a composed finish by Vinícius Júnior behind the Swiss back line in the 64th minute. But Brazil had been offside in the buildup to the goal, so the video assistant referee called it back. The game remained scoreless, but not for a lack of trying.
Tite was already actively looking for solutions by then. Rodrygo had just replaced Fred, the midfielder who had taken the place of the injured Neymar (ankle) in Brazil’s lineup, and over the next 10 minutes three more attackers tagged in and went on the hunt.
“We knew that it wasn’t going to be easy — we had to be patient,” Casemiro said. “Our first objective was to advance, and we achieved that.”
Casemiro’s goal, when it finally came, was one to remember. It was off his foot so fast, and was so well-placed, that the Swiss goalkeeper could only watch it pass like a man admiring a bullet train from the platform. But it did the job, which was more than Brazil’s forwards could say on Monday.
Neymar, who missed Monday’s game with a swollen ankle sustained in Brazil’s opener, will be back soon enough. When he returns, he will be fortunate to score a goal as good as the one that, on Monday, almost didn’t come.