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Dramatic Wins for Brazil, Switzerland as Nigeria Stays

Ahmed Musa of Nigeria celebrates after scoring against Iceland.Ahmed Musa of Nigeria celebrates after scoring against Iceland.
Critics of the Video Assistant Referee system were handed ample ammunition when Serbia was denied what appeared a blatant penalty in its defeat to Switzerland

Brazil and Switzerland left it late to claim victory and overcome defiant performances from Costa Rica and Serbia on Friday. In the process, Costa Rica became the fifth team to be knocked out of the tournament, while the other three rivals in Group E will fight it out for the two available places in the Round of 16 at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia.

Los Ticos’ resilient display, featuring a sensational performance by Real Madrid keeper Keylor Navas, looked like it was going to be enough to keep Brazil at bay until Philippe Coutinho broke the deadlock in the first minute of stoppage time. Neymar, who ended the match in tears, went on to make it 2-0 on the 97th minute, FIFA website wrote.

Neymar’s goal was the latest strike ever recorded in regulation time at a FIFA World Cup. The record was previously held jointly by four goals, each scored in the fifth minute of the stoppage time.

Later in the day, goals from Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri were enough to give Switzerland victory over Serbia, which started strongly but faded after taking the lead. Die Nati’s fate will be in their own hands going into the final group matches.

  VAR in Firing Line

Critics of the Video Assistant Referee system were handed ample ammunition when Serbia was somehow denied what appeared a blatant penalty in its defeat to Switzerland.

Serbia fell to a 2-1 loss but it could have been very different had Aleksandar Mitrovic been awarded a penalty, Reuters reported.

Midway through the second half, Switzerland defenders Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schar both grabbed hold of the Serbia striker, dragging him to the ground in the penalty area.

German referee Felix Brych waved play on and inexplicably the decision stood, despite the VAR system being in use and designed to prevent those types of controversies.

Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic kept his council in his post-match news conference, refusing to condemn the officials.

“As far as the referee is concerned, it is not up to me to comment or to berate the referee, it is up to you to assess that,” he told reporters.

The Serbian football association vice president and former international Savo Milosevic was less reticent, saying it was the second decision to have gone against Serbia after Mitrovic had a penalty appeal turned down in their opening Group E win over Costa Rica.

“I understand maybe the referee didn’t see it, but that’s why we put VAR on. What are (those) guys doing up there?” Milosevic was quoted as saying in the media. “Two decisions in two games is too much. This is a World Cup.”

The defeat left Serbia needing to beat Brazil in the final group game to qualify without relying on the result of the Swiss game against Costa Rica, which is eliminated after losing the first two matches.

In the remaining match of the second round of fixtures in Group D on Friday, Nigeria defeated Iceland by two goals to nil to remain in with a chance of qualifying for the Round of 16. In doing so, the African team gave renewed hope to Argentina, which now has every chance of advancing from the group stage providing winning the Super Eagles next Tuesday.

Having put two goals past La Albiceleste back in 2014, Ahmed Musa repeated the trick against Iceland and thereby became the second African player to score two braces at the World Cup. The first was Roger Milla, who achieved the feat at Italy 1990.

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