An increasingly impressive Brazil eased past a spirited Serbia to win Group E and now meet Mexico in the last 16. They are not perfect, far from it, but they look the best-balanced and best-drilled side in the competition; it will take a significant effort to beat them.
Serbia gave as good as they got in the early exchanges, but gradually Brazil imposed themselves, missing the only clear chances of the first half before, on 36 minutes, a fantastic long pass from Philippe Coutinho took advantage of an error in the Serbian defence, picking out Paulinho who poked home as Vladimir Stojkovic advanced.
Around the hour mark, Serbia found some extra oomph, and Aleksandar Mitrovic missed two extremely presentable chances before, on 68 minutes, Thiago Silva sealed victory for Brazil with a header from a corner.
Though they kept at it, Serbia knew that they were beaten and Brazil began to enjoy themselves with flicks and tricks. They could not score again, nor find Neymar the goal he so clearly craved, but they are growing in confidence, improving with every game, and have both solid defence and variety in attack. They are not much fun it is true, but nor are the other leading contenders. Mexcio, though, have the pace and cohesion to examine that defence a little more thoroughly.
Brazil's midfielder Paulinho (R) celebrates with Brazil's forward Philippe Coutinho after scoring during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group E football match between Serbia and Brazil at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on June 27, 2018
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Shoud Brazil play more expansively? Brazil are solid but not fluid - odd given the attackers they have. If they progress far enough in the competition to meet another side that does not give much away, they might find themselves in a stalemate, when with a little more adventure, they could seize the initiative and dominate.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Philippe Coutinho (Brazil): No one played all that well, but he created the crucial goal with a fine pass that was the highlight of the match, and generally looked the most accomplished player on show.
Serbia's midfielder Nemanja Matic (L) tackles Brazil's forward Philippe Coutinho during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group E football match between Serbia and Brazil at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on June 27, 2018.
Brazil: Alisson 5, Fagner 6, Miranda 6, Thiago Silva 6, Marcelo 6, Casemiro 6, Coutinho 7, Paulinho 6, Willian 6, Jesus 6, Neymar 6. Subs: Felipe Luis 6, Fernandinho 6, Rene Augisto 6.
4’ - Lovely from Brazil, Neymar pushing the ball inside to Coutinho, who runs into a beautifully disguised first-time pass to Jesus, who's in! But Stojkovic rushes out to smother, and when the ball comes back in, Neymar misses from four yards - but was offside anyway.
25’ - Neymar runs at the box and slips in Jesus outside him, who twists, turns and ploughs through some bodies, allowing Neymar to takeover, in on goal! But the angle is against him, so he whips towards the far post but Stojkovic is there to palm away.
36’ - GOAL! Serbia 1-0 Brazil (Paulinho) Coutinho goes deep for the ball and with no pressure on him, he espies Paulinho in between keeper and defenders - the gap is huge, and the ball, delayed until the perfect moment, is also perfect. What a World Cup he's having! And as Stojkovic desperately charges out, Paulinho pokes past him, leaving Serbia in all sorts and Brazil back on top of the group.
56’ - But there's one! Ljajic swerves in a beautiful, vicious brute of a cross and Miranda panics, hoofing over his own bar.
57’ - But from the corner Brazil break, and Coutinho snaps a pass into Neymar's path! Tadic is with him but not getting back ... yet he hangs on as though trying to outrun him, which takes him wide, and Stojkovic blocks the eventual shot with his legs.
61’ - Rukavina gets wide again, and his delivery is excellent ... Alisson panics. dives, and pushes clear ... straight at Mitrovic! Ye've gottae score! But he can only head directly into Miranda! The ball came at him quickly, but really, he's there waiting for precisely that opportunity.
65’ - Serbia are having plenty of joy down their right now, and Rukavina again crosses but this time high. Mitrovic is underneath it too, Fagner nowhere to be seen, but he can't impart the necessary power and Alisson dives to save at the near post.
68’ - GOAL! Serbia 0-2 Brazil (Thiago Silva) Neymar bends one into the near post, Thiago Silva loses Matic, and bangs home unchallenged.
Head coach Tite in actionsduring a Brazil training session and press conference ahead of the Group E match against Serbia at Spartak Stadium on June 26, 2018 in Moscow, Russia
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Brazil have qualified from the group stages for a 13th consecutive time, a run that began at Mexico' 70.
Neymar has been directly involved in 19 goals in his last 18 games, scoring 10 and assisting nine.