Brazil struggle to beat Venezuela without Neymar

SAO PAULO (AFP) – Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino scored the crucial goal as Brazil laboured to a 1-0 win over a well organised but limited Venezuela in their World Cup qualifier early yesterday.

Firmino broke the deadlock on 66 minutes in Sao Paulo, poaching a goal after Venezuelan defender Darwin Machis’ attempt to clear an Everton Ribeiro cross fell to him a few yards out.

Firmino’s 16th goal in 47 appearances for the Selecao was enough to maintain their 100 per cent record in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

Brazil have already beaten Bolivia (5-0) and Peru (4-2) and top the South American qualifying table with Argentina second.

Venezuela, who lost their first two qualifiers, were set up to contain and held the Brazilians scoreless at half time in the deserted Morumbi stadium.

The hosts missed the injured Neymar’s creativity in midfield, but even with an attack sporting Firmino, Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison, they could find no way through the mass Venezuelan defence in the first half.

Brazil’s Roberto Firmino dribbles the ball during the 2022 FIFA World Cup South American qualifier football match against Venezuela. PHOTO: AFP

Richarlison did have the ball in the net early on but the Everton striker’s celebrations were cut short when Firmino was adjuged to have been narrowly offside in the buildup.

For all Brazil’s pressing, Wuilker Farinez had little enough to do in the Venezuela goal, but the keeper made a flying save to beat away a bouncing shot from Firmino just before the half-hour, the Liverpool striker heading the resulting corner well wide.

With 75 per cent possession but short of ideas in attack, most of Brazil’s threat came from the left and it was from there they worked their best chance on 32 minutes, Atletico Madrid’s Renan Lodi whipping in a cross that Gabriel Jesus and then Richarlison, at full stretch, failed to turn in to a gaping goal.

Venezuela’s only threat came from a break up the left wing by Yeferson Soteldo, whose cross for Salomon Rondon was hacked away by Marquinhos.

Rondon, formerly of West Bromwich Albion and now plying his trade for Chinese Super Lague club Dalian Professional, otherwise cut an isolated figure when not busy with defensive duties.

Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson, who hardly touched the ball during the whole match, reacted quickly to scramble the ball away when Rondon briefly threatened the Brazil goal at the death.

Venezuela’s Corinthians star Romulo Otero wasted Venezuela’s only other real chance when he fired a 25-metre free kick over Ederson’s bar in injury time.