A goal from Neymar was enough to hand Brazil a narrow win over Costa Rica on Friday evening, in the latest of the Never-ending Friendlies™. The seleção certainly didn't have it all their own way in San José (I'm sorry, Dionne Warwick), leaving Mano Menezes with plenty to ponder ahead of the clash with Mexico.
Costa Rica 0-1 Brazil
With Daniel Alves and Marcelo rested ahead of Tuesday's match, there was a chance for two other candidates to impress in the fullback roles. Manchester United youngster Fábio was handed his first start on the right, whilst Adriano got the nod on the left. Luiz Gustavo - who remains somewhat of an unknown quantity in his homeland - was drafted into the midfield, and Fred was recalled in the target man role.
In a first half of precious little attacking quality, Brazil's best chance fell to Fred. With just three minutes on the clock, the Fluminense striker ran onto Neymar's (possibly accidental) through ball, before curling his finish just over the bar. With the seleção struggling to create further opportunities, Mano Menezes was visibly irritated on the touchline, stalking up and down, and barking orders at his charges.
Costa Rica, too, were in unforgiving mood; Álvaro Saborío's crunching challenge on Ronaldinho Gaúcho was just one instantiation of the hosts' physical approach. Speaking after the match, Neymar ruefully admitted that he hoped not to "get smacked around so much" against Mexico. Ironically, though, Brazil's most worrying injury was self-inflicted. Thiago Silva and David Luiz clattered into each other whilst seeking space in the box, leaving the former requiring lengthy attention from medical staff.
The second half brought changes aplenty for Brazil. Fábio and Júlio César were forced off with injuries, and there were deserved outings for Oscar, Hernanes and Hulk in attack. Rather than disrupt the side, these alterations appeared to spur the seleção on; Menezes' side turned in a markedly better performance after the break. Daniel Alves was particularly influential off the bench, curling over a delightful cross from which Neymar broke the deadlock. The Santos forward almost added another soon after, but saw his long range effort rebound off the crossbar.
That would prove to be the last meaningful attack of the game. There was still time, however, for Costa Rica to confirm their status as the pantomime villains of the evening; Heiner Mora launched himself into the unfortunate Jonas, and was promptly dismissed by referee Walter López. Whilst Los Ticos provided Brazil with a sturdy challenge, then, Mano Menezes and his players will hope that future opponents are rather more familiar with the word 'friendly.'
(Photo credits; (1) Mowa Sports, (2) AP.)