Brazil midfielder Bruno Guimaraes admitted the World Cup favourites lacked some of their usual verve after they needed a late Casemiro strike to beat Switzerland and secure a place in the last 16.
The five-time World Cup winners knew a second straight win in Group G on Monday would clinch their place in the knockout phase with a game to spare.
But it looked like they would have to settle for a draw until Manchester United’s Casemiro, not known for his goalscoring, popped up with a deflected strike seven minutes from time to seal a 1-0 win.
“It was a really difficult game and a 0-0 suited them, but the most important thing is that we are through,” said Newcastle’s Guimaraes, who came on as a second-half substitute at Doha’s Stadium 974.
He replaced Fred, who was in the starting line-up in the absence of Neymar, sidelined with an ankle injury suffered in Brazil’s opening 2-0 win over Serbia.
“Neymar is such a player, a real star. What team wouldn’t miss him?” he asked.
Despite the absence of Neymar, matchwinner Casemiro believes Brazil are a more complete team now than four years ago, when they crashed out of the World Cup in Russia in the quarterfinals.
“Four years have gone by and there are new players,” said the former Real Madrid star, who was one of the few survivors from a draw with Switzerland in the 2018 group stage.
Tite’s side are yet to concede a goal in Qatar, having let in just five goals in 17 games in South American qualifying.
“Our defenders are more experienced and that is another match with a clean sheet, but it’s not just about Alisson or the back four, it starts from Richarlison up front,” Casemiro said.
“I think we have a wider range of options.”