Whew! What a relief Friday night offered to fans of two Latin American football powerhouses -- Brazil and Argentina -- in Bangladesh and beyond.
Brazil left it very late before overcoming Costa Rica with two stoppage time goals and finally finding their feet in the World Cup after a drab 1-1 draw in their opener against Switzerland.
And Argentina, on brink of elimination following a draw against newcomers Iceland and a 3-0 humiliation by Croatia, got the last straw to clutch at when Nigeria beat Iceland to keep their qualifying hopes alive from Group D. Lionel Messi & Co now must win again Nigeria on June 27 and hope Iceland do not pull off a miracle win against Croatia.
Brazil were clearly under tremendous pressure but played the crucial match unlike their arch-rivals Argentina. The five-time world champions operated like a single unit, with their backline setting the tone for the game and midfield building the momentum before the frontline rocked the Costa Rican fort time and again. Much to the frustration of Brazilian forwards, waves of attacks failed to cause any cracks because of one man, goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
Navas showed the world why Real Madrid trust him so much under the crossbar and why pundits rank him among the top goalkeepers in the world. The Costa Rican was simply invincible till the match rolled into stoppage time after the 90-minute regulation phase.
But the enormously frustrating evening for the favourites -- during which Neymar was heavily criticised for his on-field theatrics -- was forgotten with two strikes in three minutes.
Fully-recovered from a broken bone in his foot in February, Neymar was too desperate to rediscover the magical form that made him the world's most expensive player and was the centre of attention for much of the match. He did everything possible-- dribbling, dodging, passing, rainbow-flicking, shooting, missing, shouting, crying and even conning the referee for a penalty.
In the dying minutes of the game, the superstar's fake backwards fall inside the box upon the slightest touch from Giancarlo Gonzalez almost dragged Brazilian football -- known not for its cheating but its beauty -- into a deception scandal.
Neymar should have known even Diego Maradona's infamous 'Hand of God' goal against England in 1986 would have been cancelled out in this age of technology. Thankfully, the Dutch referee resorted to video technology to review and overturn his original decision of awarding a penalty against Costa Rica.
Not Neymar but Philippe Coutinho was the best in Brazil's now-customary blue jersey, with tonal strips, in celebration of the country's coastline and surf culture. The playmaker, who was in the thick of every Brazilian thing, eventually broke the evening's duck before Neymar had the final say moments later with a close-range tap-in to make it two.
The steam went off from Brazilian cooker, at last! And it could be heard in the night air filled with raucous cheers across Bangladesh. Later in the night, Argentine fans too had the chance to heave a sigh of relief at the success of Nigeria.
Both Brazil and Argentina now need to move up a gear or two to go past the next round, where there is no scope for error.
The writer is former Sports Editor of The Daily Star