Coutinho secures supporting role as Brazil recover in World Cup
Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho had become used to watching Brazil either on TV or from the bench. But after new coach Tite took over the national team in September, Coutinho has secured a key supporting role in leading Brazil to the top of its World Cup group in South American qualifiers.
In the 3-0 victory over Argentina on Thursday, Coutinho had his best performance wearing yellow so far.
Brazil's No. 11 opened scoring with a superb strike from the edge of the box, and then floated behind Argentina's defensive midfielders to create space for Barcelona star Neymar to score his 50th goal for the home team.
For the first time in a Brazil match, the 53,000 fans at the Mineirao stadium chanted Coutinho's name as he was substituted by Douglas Costa.
Coutinho's natural partnership with Neymar comes from playing together in youth divisions. They are so close that, after the game, both posted on Instagram the same picture of themselves celebrating a goal.
“Since a long time ago,” Neymar's post read, with Coutinho saying much the same thing.
Other players see the growing importance of their relationship.
“They understand each other so much that they make it all simpler for the other players,” said Brazil midfielder Renato Augusto.
Brazil has won all five matches since Coutinho became a vital member of the side under Tite, with the bonus of Neymar's teamwork also improving. During training sessions in Belo Horizonte this week, Coutinho and Neymar — both 24 — were almost always together, and often with 19-year-old striker Gabriel Jesus, who will soon move to Manchester City.
“It is so easy to play with them,” Coutinho said. “And it is great because our relationship works on and off the pitch. That has given us a lot of confidence.”
Coach Tite also gets credit from the Liverpool midfielder.
“He thinks every player is important, even those that are not playing,” Coutinho said. “That has made a big difference.”
Brazil leads the South American qualifiers with 24 points from 11 matches. The top four teams qualify automatically for the World Cup in Russia in 2018.
Next Tuesday Brazil eighth-placed Peru.
Despite the convincing victory over Argentina — at the same place where Brazil was humiliated by Germany 7-1 in the 2014 World Cup semifinals — Coutinho believes there is still a lot to do before Russia. For now, he wants to enjoy being a supporting actor.
“Just to be here brings me a lot of pride, just to be in a squad like this with all these fantastic players,” Coutinho said. “Playing against Argentina was a big dream come true, every Brazilian child dreams to be in one of those games.” visits
Christen Press scores fourth career hat trick in 81 US win
As the season winds down, coach Jill Ellis wants the Americans winging it and making adjustments on the fly to keep pressure on opponents from all angles and every spot on the field.
That task came fairly easily against Romania.
Christen Press had her fourth career hat trick by the 38th minute, Alex Morgan added two goals and the U.S. women's national team whipped up on the Romanians 8-1 Thursday night.
“I want a team to feel like they can't breathe against us,” Ellis said. “That's kind of where we want to take this team to in terms of our defensive presence and that kind of mentality . ... Both sides of the ball that's what we want, and they're not going to get a break.”
Press scored the first goal of the match in the 8th minute, then Tobin Heath found the net 2 minutes later for the first of her two goals on an assist by Press, who scored again in the 35th and 38th minutes.
With 11 goals this season, the former star at nearby Stanford reached double digits for the third straight year and became the fourth U.S. player to do so in 2016.
“In order to play this style, you have to be physically superior than the other team,” Press said. “So that's kind of like our baseline. Big engine, super aggressive, always on our toes, always on our front foot and then at the same time when you get the ball you have to be calm, you have to be composed. So it's that switching back and forth I think makes the best team in the world, and that's what we're aiming to be.”
Morgan scored in the 52nd and 75th minutes but missed a penalty kick in the 64th after Ellis inserted five substitutes to start the second half at Avaya Stadium, which drew 16,425 fans.
Morgan Brian made a diving header from just inside the 8-yard box off a free kick by Andi Sullivan following a yellow card, her first goal of the year.
Megan Rapinoe didn't play, nor was she on the field during the national anthem to kneel on the grass as has been her routine, inspired by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's actions during the NFL preseason.
Brazil's Neymar, center, celebrates with teammates Philippe Coutinho, left, and Gabriel Jesus