Coutinho sale ‘incredible’ business for more balanced Liverpool, says Warnock

Liverpool’s €160 million sale of Philippe Coutinho has proved to be “incredible” business, says Stephen Warnock, with the Reds boasting better balance without the Brazilian.

Having initially resisted interest from La Liga giants Barcelona in the summer of 2017, those at Anfield agreed to part with a key creative cog during the January transfer window.

Fears were raised as to how Jurgen Klopp’s side would fare without Coutinho pulling the strings, but he has barely been missed as Liverpool have become an even greater attacking force in his absence.

They now have money in the bank, ready to invest at the next opportunity, and a settled side which continues to benefit from the fine recruitment work being overseen by a highly-rated manager and supportive board.

Former Reds defender Warnock told BBC Sport on the parting with Coutinho: “I know fans were worried it was the wrong move but that kind of money means it is good business.

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“And I don’t think there are many players Klopp has bought or sold in his time at the club you would say was a terrible buy, or who we are missing.

“In fact, I would hold my hands up and say his transfer business has been incredible. He has not turned his squad over or brought in a massive influx of players. And his approach is good for the dressing room.

“That is another reason why the fans should trust him – he knows what he is doing whether it be tactics, on the training ground or in the transfer market.”

With Coutinho gone, the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have flourished at Anfield – with the former having taken his goal tally to 41 and landed the PFA Player of the Year award.

Sadio Mane Roberto Firmino Mohamed Salah Emre Can Liverpool 2017

Warnock added on a side closing in on a top-four finish in the Premier League and readying themselves for a Champions League semi-final clash with Roma: “You cannot say they are better without him [Coutinho], because we do not know where they would be in the Premier League if he had stayed – but they have definitely adapted.

“There is more emphasis on the front three to create more for themselves now, because they haven’t got Coutinho behind them to create for them.

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“And there is a better balance to the team too. Everyone is talking about the difference [£75m defender] Virgil van Dijk has made – and he has been immense at the back – but having another midfielder who is more defensive-minded than Coutinho has definitely helped as well.

“Liverpool have been improving as the season has gone on anyway, and there are several reasons for that, but it will have taken people by surprise that they have kicked on the way they have since selling Coutinho.

“They obviously believed they could deal with him leaving – and they have.”

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Neymar puts Salah, Coutinho & Hazard in World Cup bracket just below Messi & Ronaldo

Neymar believes the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Mohamed Salah and Eden Hazard are ready to illuminate the 2018 World Cup.

Several nations will be heading to Russia this summer harbouring ambitions of claiming global glory, with talismanic figures within their respective ranks ready to lead the charge.

Brazil, with Neymar back to full fitness following a broken metatarsal, are among the favourites, while Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will be shouldering the weight of expectation with Argentina and Portugal.

Two men with 10 Ballons d’Or between them are expected to shine on the grandest of stages, but who steps up if they are taken out of the equation?

That question was put to Neymar during a recent promotional event in his homeland, and the Paris Saint-Germain forward said: “There are lots of quality players, it’s the World Cup we’re talking about, only the best in the world.

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“But Coutinho and [Gabriel] Jesus are two that can make a difference, I hope they do.

“Salah doesn’t play for a big national team, but he can have a good World Cup.

“There are also other very talented players: Hazard, [Kevin] De Bruyne, [Luis] Suarez.  

“I hope we all can perform well and have a wonderful World Cup, but I expect them not to do so against Brazil!”

Neymar has been out of action since February 25, with an unfortunate injury forcing him under the knife.

Neymar Brazil

He is, however, edging closer to a return, with the 26-year-old hoping to be ready to be ready by mid-May.

There will not be much domestic football to come at that point, but there will still be time in which to prepare himself for a World Cup quest.

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Neymar saw his 2014 campaign devastated by injury at the quarter-final stage and he is determined to help Brazil fulfil their potential four years on.

He added: “I’m happy to be part of a team that, for me, is the strongest right now.

“We have the quality players required to win and we’ll try to make it happen.”

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FIFA 18 Ultimate Team of the Week: Isco & Coutinho star

Philippe Coutinho and Isco lead the FIFA Ultimate Team of the Week, while both Vincent Kompany and Olivier Giroud are included.

Coutinho was at his productive best in Barcelona’s 2-1 win over Valencia, setting up both goals, as he settles into a groove at Camp Nou, while Isco, by comparison, scored a superb free-kick on his return to former club Malaga as Real Madrid won 2-1.

Kompany will get his hands on the Premier League trophy soon, as Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Tottenham – in which the Belgian completely nullified the threat of Harry Kane – coupled with Manchester United’s dire 1-0 loss to West Brom, confirmed Pep Guardiola’s men as champions.

Giroud, meanwhile, again proved that he can be an exceptional super sub, as he came off the bench to inspire an exceptional Chelsea comeback against Southampton. The Frenchman pulled a goal back with the Blues 2-0 down, and then netted the winner after Eden Hazard had equalised, keeping Antonio Conte’s men in the hunt for Champions League qualification.

Elsewhere, Gianluigi Donnarumma earns a spot on the bench after a brilliant save late on earned Milan a 0-0 draw with Napoli, while Wilfried Zaha earns a striker card after scoring twice in Crystal Palace’s 3-2 derby win over Brighton.

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See the full squad below.


STARTING XI


FIFA 18 TOTW

GK – Ruffier – Saint-Etienne – 85>88
CB – Kompany – Manchester City – 85>87
CB – Naldo – FC Schalke 04 – 84>88
RB – R Pereira – FC Porto – 80>85
RM – Coutinho – FC Barcelona – 87>88
CAM – Isco – Real Madrid – 86>88
LM – Douglas Costa – Juventus – 83>85
LM – Babel – Besiktas – 78>84
ST – Zaha – Crystal Palace – 82>86
ST – Giroud – Chelsea – 82>87
ST – Wagner – Bayern Munich – 79>84


BENCH


GK – Donnarumma – Milan – 82>86
RB – Svensson – AZ – 75>81
LM – Grosicki – Hull City – 76>81
CM – Lo Celso – PSG – 75>81
ST – Volland – Bayer Leverkusen – 80>83
ST – Kharbin – Al Hilal – 77>81
ST – Castillo – U.N.A.M. – 76>84


RESERVES


GK – Alomerovic – Korona Kielce – 64>74
CM – McGree – Newcastle Jets – 62>72
ST – Pedersen – Stømsgodset – 68>76
ST – Grimaldi – SC Preuben Munster – 68>76
LF – Àsen – Tromso IL – 67>76

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Classy Coutinho shows what Barcelona were missing in Roma collapse

Football returned to Camp Nou on Saturday, but a fair few Barcelona fans were not in the mood. With the disappointment of their team’s European exit away to Roma on Tuesday still fresh in the memory and rain ahead of kick-off, many supporters stayed away.

The official crowd of 69,544 was not a bad one, but still fairly low considering this was a meeting between first and third in La Liga, with Barca remaining on course for a domestic double and also unbeaten in the Primera Division this term.

The last time those fans had been at Camp Nou, it was to see their team thrash Roma 4-1 in the sides’ Champions League quarter-final first leg clash 10 days ago and, even though that scoreline flattered the Blaugrana, it had looked easily good enough to secure a semi-final spot.

But the subsequent collapse at the Stadio Olimpico, where Barca lost 3-0 on Tuesday to crash out of the continental competition on away goals, had clearly dampened the spirits of many ahead of this weekend’s league game.

By the end of the match, however, those supporters were enjoying themselves again as Ernesto Valverde’s side held off a strong Valencia side to win 2-1. And the performance of Philippe Coutinho in particular will make them wonder just what might have been in Europe.

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Coutinho was signed from Liverpool in January for an initial €120 million but, having turned out for the Reds earlier on in the Champions League, he was cup-tied for Barcelona’s games in the continental competition.

Ironically, that rule will be scrapped ahead of next season’s tournament, but that did not help Barca this time and Coutinho showed versus Valencia that he could have been extremely useful in the games against Roma.

The 25-year-old linked up well between the lines and it was his exquisite defence-splitting pass that set up Luis Suarez for Barca’s opening goal after 15 minutes.

Barcelona Valencia score

And early in the second half, it was Coutinho’s corner that found Samuel Umtiti, the France defender heading home to double Barca’s lead after it looked as if Valencia might find a way back into the game.

The visitors did pull a goal back late on as Dani Parejo’s penalty slipped under the body of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but Valverde’s men held on for a win which sees Barca set a new record of unbeaten games in La Liga (39 across this season and the end of last term, beating the previous mark of Real Sociedad in 1979-80).

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Coutinho played a big part in that and the Brazilian was given an ovation as he was replaced by Ousmane Dembele with 11 minutes left, with Barca then still two goals ahead.

His link-up play, vision, width and range of passing would have been useful for a Blaugrana bereft of ideas and inspiration on Tuesday in Rome and he certainly showed the fans what they had been missing with this performance.

Still, at least it was something to celebrate for those supporters after all the doom and gloom of the Roma loss and although it is too late for the Champions League this time around, one positive is that Valverde can now pick Coutinho whenever he wants.

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Life after Messi? Ronaldinho explains how Barcelona can replace a ‘living legend’

Lionel Messi will have to leave Barcelona at some point, and Ronaldinho is looking for somebody with “half of his ability” to step up and succeed an all-time great.

The La Liga leaders do not need to start planning for life without a five-time Ballon d’Or winner any time soon, with their mercurial talisman still only 30 years of age.

That day will come, though, and filling the boots of a modernday icon will be no easy task.

Barca have, however, replaced legendary figures in the past and one of those is hoping that a suitable heir will soon emerge at Camp Nou.

Two-time World Player of the Year Ronaldinho told Yahoo Sport on how to replace Messi: “We just have to cross our fingers and hope that someone comes along with half of his ability. That would already be enough.”

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For now, though, a man who helped to guide Messi through his early years as a senior star in Catalunya is happy to continue singing the praises of an unworldly talent.

Ronaldinho added: “I will never get tired of eulogising about Leo. He’s not just a great player; he’s a great person, a great human being. That’s the kind of thing we must never tire of praising.

“And when he gets on that field… well, then we could end up speaking for a whole year about Messi. He evolves with every game. Leo is a living legend and we must treat him with so much respect.”

While delighted to see Messi continuing to shine at Camp Nou, Ronaldinho is also pleased to see two fellow Brazilians taking on leading roles.

Philippe Coutinho joined Barca from Liverpool during the January transfer window, with an illustrious countryman saying of the €160 million star: “I’m very happy that he has gone to Barcelona.

Philippe Coutinho Barcelona

“I think the characteristics of his game are perfect for Spanish football, and for Barcelona’s style. I hope it works out for him, because he has a lot of quality.

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“He is one of the most special players in the world today – the kind who would fit into any team. If he was able to shine in England, with that aggressive football, full of really strong, fast players, that proves he can play anywhere.”

Ronaldinho added on Paulinho, who has silenced those who questioned his signing with an impressive debut campaign for a treble-chasing side: “I’m not surprised. Everyone in Brazil already knew [what he could do] due to the excellent work he did at Corinthians. He really stood out.

“He went to a league that isn’t that visible, globally [the Chinese Super League], but everyone knows about his quality, and he’s showing that once again.”

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Coutinho is as good as Neymar, says Dani Alves

Dani Alves is not worried about Neymar’s current absence from the national team, as he believes Philippe Coutinho is every bit as good as his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate.

Coutinho has established himself as one of the world’s most talented midfielders since narrowly missing out on Luiz Felipe Scolari’s 2014 World Cup squad.

Playing regularly in a Liverpool side renowned for their attacking fluency under Brendan Rodgers and then Jurgen Klopp has played a major role in his development, before eventually sealing a £142 million switch to Barcelona in January.

And while he has made a somewhat slow start to his Barca career, Alves insists that he has to be considered in the same breath as Neymar, who misses out on Tuesday’s clash with Germany due to a fractured metatarsal.

“I think that Coutinho is a player who is on the same level as Ney, he has a massive influence on our game and in his teams,” the full-back stated in a press conference.

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“When he was in Liverpool and now in Barca, he has improved a lot and learned to read the game better, to make the right decisions. 

“That is great to see, to play with such a good footballer who has that ability. There are others who are similar. We are lucky to play with great players and have them on our side is fantastic. We have to get the best out of them and build a solid team.

Brazil coach Tite echoed Alves’ words, affirming that the Barca man has become a “very strong” player as he prepares for his first World Cup.

“What qualities do you think are important in a footballer? He has it,” Tite told reporters.

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“The whole of Coutinho’s work is very strong. He has passing, competitiveness, effectiveness at medium distance, speed of thought and execution, assists, and now a greater maturity, which is also important.

“He and Willian understand that they are offensive players. Douglas Costa is taking this in, [Roberto] Firmino is looking to convert what he has done in Liverpool – being aggressive, going for the goal, not heading out wide.”

Brazil’s meeting with Germany on Tuesday, marks the first time the two sides have faced off since Joachim Low’s men incredibly ran out 7-1 winners on Brazilian soil in the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup.

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Coutinho’s central role and Paulino artilheiro – five lessons from Russia 0-3 Brazil

Brasil Global Tour looks back at the major talking points after a positive second-half showing saw the Selecao run out comfortable winners in Moscow


GOALANALYSIS


A solid second-half showing at the Luzhniki Satdium in Moscow on Saturday saw Brazil eventually canter to a 3-0 victory over World Cup hosts Russia on the Brasil Global Tour.


GOALREAD MORE: GOAL
REPORT: Russia 0-3 Brazil | Tite out to erase the 7-1 | IN STATS: Russia 0-3 Brazil


Barcelona stars Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho were on the scoresheet, with defender Miranda knocking home the other from close range in what coach Tite believes was a valuable exercise for his side ahead of June’s World Cup finals.

Below, Brasil Global Tour take a look at some of the major talking points from the Russian capital.


PAULINHO


Paulinho I Brasil Russia I 23 03 18

Paulinho has been become increasingly important to Brazil’s attacking play over the past 18 months. The Barcelona man has now netted seven goals under Tite, the same number of strikes as Neymar and only one less than the top-scorer under the current coach, Gabriel Jesus.

His uncanny ability to perfectly-time his late runs into the box was in display once again as he earned a penalty and headed a goal himself. His thrust from midfield has added an extra dimension to the side and has been vital in reducing the dependence on Neymar.


WILLIAN BACK IN THE MIX


Willian Brasil x Rússia

Chelsea midfielder Willian once again impressed in a Brazil shirt and, combined with his sensational club form, now appears to have a real chance of forcing his way back into Brazil’s starting XI.

The only player to lose his place under Tite, The 29-year-old could reclaim his role on the right as Tite looks increasingly as if he may be set to drop Renato Augusto from central midfield, freeing up the role for Coutinho to move inside and leave the right-wing for Willian.


COUTINHO


Philippe Coutinho Brazil Russia international friendly

Tite has repeatedly trialled Coutinho in a deeper midfield role and once again asked the Barcelona man to move central and create. This was the first time he had started a match in central midfield under Tite. In the first half, however, the Barcelona man found it tough going despite Douglas Costa pulling very wide to afford him more space.

Coutinho had a tall task on his hands with so many Russian defenders in front of him, but he improved as the Selecao found a way through in the second-half and stepped up to convert a penalty for yet another goal under Tite. For Coutinho to be effective in the role, he will need to operate in a more cohesive attacking approach than we saw in the first 45 minutes.


DISJOINTED BY DESIGN?


Russia Brazil

Brazil struggled to break down their dogged hosts in the first 45 minutes and even suffered a few scares shortly before half-time when Russia began to find some joy on the counter-attack, missing a glaring opportunity to take a first-half lead.

Brazil appeared a little disjointed in attack, but coach Tite later insisted this was quite by design: He’d tasked his attackers with constantly swapping positions in an attempt to unsettle a Russia side that was deploying the sort of deep block he expects from many of the Selecao’s opponents at the World Cup.


TIME TO ERASE THE DEMONS


Tite Brazil 23032018

Brazil cruised to victory after the break, but next up for the Selecao is a first meeting with Germany since the 7-1 – a match that Tite says will offer the five-time world champions a chance to finally erase the demons of that fateful night in Belo Horizonte almost four years ago.

“We are in a building period and emotionally it will be important. Against Germany, we will want to play football, to be competitive, mentally strong, and put an idea in play. We are looking to impose our way of playing.”

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Tite wants Brazil to erase Germany memories in ’emotionally important’ clash

Tite feels facing Germany in an international friendly will be important emotionally for his Brazil side, four years on from World Cup humiliation.

Germany destroyed the hosts 7-1 in the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup, plunging Brazil into a state of national despair.

Brazil travel to Berlin on Tuesday to take on Germany for the first time since that game, Joachim Low’s men having gone on to beat Argentina in the World Cup final.

And Tite – who was not in charge of Brazil at the last World Cup – accepts his players may be affected by the memory of being thrashed by Germany.

“The 7-1 game is the most recent game,” Tite said. “And of course we know that we’ll play Germany in Berlin, they were world champions, they beat us 7-1 and it’s a step that’s passed.

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“We are in a building period and emotionally it will be important. Against Germany, we will want to play football, to be competitive, mentally strong, and put an idea in play. We are looking to impose our way of playing.”

Tite’s side beat Russia 3-0 in Moscow on Friday as the South American side build towards Russia 2018, with goals from Miranda, Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho earning a comfortable win.

Coutinho took a deeper role in midfield, linking play for Brazil, and Tite picked the Barcelona man out for praise after an influential display.

“He played very well, outside, roaming, inside, he is a polite and competitive player,” Tite said. 

“Someone who can be competitive, strong, and be polite at the same time. He is our own example.

“Sometimes people confuse that polite players aren’t competitive. He can execute another role easily.”

 

Mais imagens da vitória da #SeleçãoBrasileira contra a Rússia!  3  0  #GigantesPorNatureza #WorldCup Foto: Lucas Figueiredo/CBF

A post shared by Seleção Brasileira de Futebol (@cbf_futebol) on

Paulinho won the penalty converted by Coutinho and wrapped up the scoring himself with a back-post header, with the Barcelona midfielder pleased with the role he is playing under Tite’s leadership.

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“Tite gives me absolute freedom to do what I have always done throughout my career,” Paulinho said.

“We knew about the difficulties we were going to face. In the second half the Russians opened up more, there were more spaces and the chances came.”

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Russia 0 Brazil 3: Coutinho on target in routine win

Barcelona stars Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho were on the scoresheet as Brazil cruised past Russia 3-0 in an international friendly on Friday.

Tite’s side were without Neymar, the Paris Saint-Germain forward recovering from a fractured foot, but they eased to victory against the World Cup hosts in Moscow.

Igor Akinfeev made a string of fine saves to keep Russia level in the first half but the goalkeeper was at fault for Brazil’s opener, failing to divert a Thiago Silva header out of the danger zone, with Miranda on hand to turn home the rebound.

Within nine minutes Brazil had doubled their lead from the penalty spot, Aleksandr Golovin clumsily fouling Paulinho in the box, his club team-mate Coutinho stepping up to score.

Paulinho added his name to the scoresheet as Brazil moved through the gears, Willian hanging up the perfect cross for the midfielder to nod in at the back post.

A burst of three goals in 13 minutes left the result in no doubt, but substitute Alan Dzagoev went close to grabbing a consolation for Russia, sending a drive narrowly wide.

Brazil created their first clear chance in the fifth minute, a lofted Dani Alves pass sending Gabriel Jesus into the box, but the striker slipped as he shot and Akinfeev saved.

Jesus – who survived an injury scare after taking a knock to his ankle – then headed a Coutinho cross straight at Akinfeev.

Coutinho’s speculative long-range strike was plucked out of the air by Akinfeev as Brazil continued to probe without incision, Willian also failing to test the Russia goalkeeper.

Russia’s first chance arrived in the 32nd minute, Alisson tipping Aleksandr Samedov’s drive over the crossbar after Alves lost possession on the halfway line, allowing the hosts to break.

Neat build-up play then saw Aleksey Miranchuk fire over a first-time shot after a one-two with Fedor Smolov as Russia – now winless in four friendlies – gained confidence.

Paulinho should have given Brazil the lead shortly after the restart, but Akinfeev saved with his legs after Willian teed the Barca midfielder up in the box.

Moments after making a stunning block with his face after Samedov deflected a shot directly at him, Akinfeev’s mistake handed Brazil their opener in the 53rd minute.

The goalkeeper could only parry a Silva header directly to Miranda, who slammed the loose ball into the roof of the net.

And when Paulinho was bundled over in the box by Golovin, Brazil made sure of their win.

Coutinho stepped up to send Akinfeev the wrong way from 12 yards and Paulinho was soon on target himself, dazzling wing play from Willian providing the midfielder with a simple header.

Dzagoev fired off-target and Russia were denied a 77th-minute consolation when the ball somehow did not go in during a lengthy goalmouth scramble, Anton Zabolotny denied by Silva on the line.

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Jesus, Paulinho and Coutinho – Brazil’s top scorers under Tite

Set to face Russia and Germany this week on the Brasil Global Tour, coach Tite will look to his star trio to fire his side to victory in Europe

The battle to be Brazil’s top scorer in the Tite era will continue this month as three Selecao hotshots take aim at top spot.

While Neymar remains the central figure in the team’s attacking play, Tite and his staff has worked tirelessly to limit the team’s dependence on the PSG star.

While previous coaches suffered criticism for a ‘Neymar or bust’ approach to their attacking play, Tite’s side have reduced their dependence on the outstanding player of this generations, splitting the goals between a number of important players in the squad.

While still playing a leading role, Neymar has been integrated into the side’s attacking play rather than other way around, and centre-forward Gabriel Jesus tops the scoring charts under Tite.

Despite missing three of Tite’s 16 matches – for which the player was eligible – the Manchester City star has hit eight goals in 13 appearances for his country.

Brazil’s scorers under Tite

Posted by Brasil Global Tour on Thursday, March 22, 2018

Even though he’s playing more for his team-mates, Neymar has still found the net regularly. The Selecao No.10 has hit the net seven times, with six of those arriving in Word Cup qualifying.

Paulinho is not far behind, with six goals since his recall to the Selecao. The Barcelona midfielder has been reborn under Tite and has repeatedly timed late runs into the box to find the net. 

His goals from midfield will no doubt be key to Brazil’s World Cup hopes – as will those of his Barca colleague Philippe Coutinho, who broke into the team under Tite and, for the first time, has been able to consider himself a genuine first-team player for his country.

Brazil meet Russia in Moscow on March 23 before heading to Berlin to face Germany on March 27.

Track Brazil every step of the way on this month’s Brasil Global Tour by following us on Instagram , Twitter and Facebook for live updates, analysis, videos and more. 

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