ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — After more than 90 minutes of aggravation and exasperation, Neymar and Brazil finally broke through Costa Rica’s smothering defense.
Philippe Coutinho scored in the first minute of stoppage time, and Neymar followed six minutes later to give Brazil a 2-0 victory over Costa Rica on Friday at the World Cup.
Unlike Argentina and Lionel Messi, Brazil is still in a good position to advance to the round of 16. Costa Rica has been eliminated.
“The responsibility is huge when you are playing for the national team,” Coutinho said. “You have to be mentally strong from the beginning until the end. We fought until the end and we were rewarded.”
Neymar dropped to his knees after the final whistle, sobbing in his hands as his teammates surrounded him and then lifted him off the ground.
“We know he had a difficult injury, he went through a very bad patch,” Coutinho said through a translator, referring to Neymar breaking a bone in his right foot four months ago. “But his joy at being on the pitch is contagious.”
A few minutes before the end, Neymar flopped backward to initially earn a penalty, but the contact was so exaggerated that the referee reversed the call after using video review. Neymar then angrily punched the ball a short time later as Costa Rica’s players tried to waste time. It earned Brazil’s biggest star a yellow card.
“The joy, the satisfaction and the pride of representing the national team is a lot,” Brazil coach Tite said, defending Neymar. “He has the responsibility, the pressure. Everyone shows it in their own way.”
Neymar seemed panicked for most of the second half as his shots sailed over the bar or simply missed the mark, and he complained over nearly every call. In danger of ending in a draw, Brazil seemed nervous but composed itself through the seven minutes of injury time.
Coutinho was first to get the ball past goalkeeper Keylor Navas. Rising superbly to meet a header from Marcelo’s cross, Roberto Firmino nodded the ball down to striker Gabriel Jesus, who then flicked it to a sprinting Coutinho in the penalty area.
Nigeria 2, Iceland 0
VOLGOGRAD, Russia (AP) — Ahmed Musa gave Nigeria its first win at this year’s World Cup, and gave Argentina a gift.
Musa scored two second-half goals to help the Nigerians beat Iceland 2-0 Friday and move into second place in the group behind already-qualified Croatia.
Nigeria will face Argentina in its final group match on Tuesday in St. Petersburg. If Nigeria wins, it will advance to the round of 16. But if Argentina claims all three points, it can still advance depending on the result of the other match between Croatia and Iceland.
Musa, Nigeria’s all-time leading World Cup scorer with four goals, has played well against Argentina before. His two previous goals came at the 2014 tournament in Brazil in a group match against the two-time champions.
“It’s possible I’m going to score another two goals,” the 25-year-old Musa said.
On Friday, Musa gave Nigeria the lead in the 49th minute after Victor Moses sprinted deep into the Iceland half and curled a cross to the near post. Musa deftly controlled the ball before slamming it past Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson on the half-volley.
Nigeria nearly doubled its lead on several occasions, but Musa made it happen in the 75th minute. He picked up the ball on the left side of the Iceland penalty area, mazed his way past Halldorsson and picked his spot in the Iceland goal.
“I think the control made it more perfect for me,” said Musa, who hinted he wants to leave Premier League club Leicester and play for CSKA Moscow.
Iceland, the smallest nation ever to compete in the World Cup, was not as effective as it had been against Argentina when it earned a surprise 1-1 draw.
Still, the European champion quarterfinalists had a chance to get one back but Gylfi Sigurdsson sent a penalty kick over the Nigeria bar in the 83rd minute. The penalty was awarded after a video review showed that Alfred Finnbogason had been brought down by Tyronne Ebuehi.
Switzerland 2, Serbia 1
KALININGRAD, Russia (AP) — Albania’s national flag was at the center of Switzerland’s 2-1 victory over Serbia on Friday at the World Cup.
Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage.
Both players put their open hands together with their thumbs locked and fingers outstretched to make what looks like the double-headed eagle displayed on Albania’s flag. The thumbs represent the heads of the two eagles, while the fingers look like the feathers.
“I think about this, I don’t want to speak,” said Shaqiri, who also took off his shirt after scoring. “In football, you have always emotions. You can see what I did, and it’s just emotion, and I’m just happy to have scored the goal. I did it, and we don’t have to speak about this.”
The gesture is likely to inflame tensions among Serb nationalists and ethnic Albanians.
Shaqiri was born in Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense. Xhaka’s parents are originally from Kosovo and they are of Albanian heritage. His brother plays for Albania’s national team.
Years of war in Balkans sent many families to western European countries, including Switzerland. The Swiss have dozens of ethnic Albanians in their national soccer program.
Serbia’s players did not react to the eagle gestures at Kaliningrad Stadium.
“I don’t have any comments,” Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic said. “I don’t deal with these things. I am a man of sports, and this is what I’m going to stay being.”
In the tournament’s first come-from-behind victory, Xhaka made it 1-1 in the 52nd minute with a powerful shot through a crowded penalty area. Shaqiri added the other in injury time after running past the Serbian defense.
Their celebrations were emotional and could overshadow Switzerland’s victory.
“You should never mix politics and football. You should always show respect,” Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic said. “It’s a wonderful atmosphere and a positive experience and that’s what football should be about.”
Aleksandar Mitrovic scored for Serbia with a header in the fifth minute.
The win puts Switzerland into second place in Group E with four points, the same as Brazil. The Swiss will advance to the round of 16 if they beat Costa Rica on Wednesday in Nizhny Novgorod. Serbia will face Brazil in Moscow at the same time.
Serbia had chances to score more before halftime. Mitrovic came close in the 19th minute when he controlled a cross from Branislav Ivanovic on his chest and sent a bicycle kick over the bar.