Philippe Coutinho has urged patience from Brazil following the favorites' uneven start to the World Cup and the latest hysteria surrounding Neymar's fitness ahead of Friday's match against Costa Rica in St. Petersburg.
Barcelona playmaker Coutinho gave Tite's in-form side a first-half lead in spectacular fashion in the Group E opener against Switzerland but the European side was able to batten down the hatches and escape with a draw after Steven Zuber's 50th-minute equalizer.
Costa Rica could prove a similarly tough nut to crack, with group pacesetter Serbia needing a stunning Aleksandar Kolarov free kick to see off Oscar Ramirez's side 1-0.
"It's going to be difficult game like any game in the World Cup," Coutinho said. "All games have been balanced. Their game against Serbia was decided by a free kick.
"They have to be careful. If they are going to be defensive, we will prepare. This is something we will only know on Friday. We will prep for both situations."
Brazil expects Neymar to be available despite hobbling out of a training session in Sochi on Tuesday with ankle soreness. He resumed working with the ball Wednesday but concerns remain given the Paris Saint-Germain star's recent return from a broken metatarsal.
Costa Rica's main worries purportedly relate to morale rather than injury issues. Scheduled media activity in St. Petersburg on Wednesday was canceled amid reports of a rift between Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas and other senior players.
"You have to understand that Keylor is on another level than the rest of us, but that doesn't mean he's not a great teammate, that he isn't himself around us," said captain Bryan Ruiz earlier in the week, after preparations were further disrupted by an argument between forward Johan Venegas and defender Giancarlo Gonzalez being briefly broadcast on a Costa Rica Football Federation live feed.
"We just have to thank him for coming, thank him for defending us and for doing what he does on the field to help us."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Brazil – Philippe Coutinho
Question marks over Neymar's condition make Coutinho even more vital to the Brazilian cause. The dipping 25-yarder that illuminated the Switzerland game has become the Barca man's trademark and he is revelling in being reassigned to a central role by Tite.
Costa Rica – Johan Venegas
Seemingly fired up on the training ground, left-sided attacker Venegas scored three times during Los Ticos' qualifying campaign. A loan spell with Deportivo Saprissa from Minnesota United also means he is better off in terms of match sharpness than the more celebrated Ruiz and Joel Campbell.
KEY OPTA STATS
- Brazil has won nine of its 10 previous internationals against Costa Rica, losing only in a friendly in March 1960.
- Costa Rica's only previous World Cup victory against South American opposition came in the 2014 tournament (3-1 v Uruguay). It had lost its previous three against CONMEBOL sides.
- Philippe Coutinho's goal against Switzerland was his 11th for Brazil — five of those have come from outside the box.
- Neymar was fouled 10 times against Switzerland — the most a player has been fouled in a World Cup match since 1998, when England striker Alan Shearer was impeded 11 times during a 2-0 win over Tunisia.