Switzerland have denied deliberately targeting Brazil superstar Neymar after their tactics were branded ‘disgraceful’ in the shock World Cup draw against the five-time champions.
Neymar was awarded 10 free-kicks – more than any player in a World Cup match since 1998 – during Sunday’s 1-1 Group E draw at Rostov Arena and appeared to be limping in the second half.
Valon Behrami, Fabian Schar and Stephan Lichtsteiner were all booked for fouls on Neymar, but Petkovic insists Switzerland did not set out to target the Paris Saint-Germain forward, who started his first game since February after recovering from a foot injury.
EARTH-SHAKING UPSET: Epic Mexico celebrations cause ‘artificial quake’
OPTUS OUTRAGE: Fans vent anger after another night of World Cup blackouts
“No, most of the duels were perfectly clean and very often we had one-on-ones with Neymar,” Petkovic told a news conference.
“One of the key ingredients [of the result] was to neutralise him but there are different players in the Brazil squad who have great quality and they have shown that on the pitch.
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) June 17, 2018
“Of course, it was a strategic, psychological type of discipline and I am very proud of the discipline with which my team played and they did everything we talked about, which was very important in one-on-one situations but also collectively against this opponent.
“We were not actually able to implement it in the first half and that invited Brazil to be dangerous. As far as yellow cards are concerned there were a bit too many. I didn’t see any bad fouls. My team played it very cleverly. We did some good things and I’m pleased.
“I hope people will start taking notice of us. Sometimes there is a lack of recognition and that’s a pity because we played very well and only conceded once. We demonstrated that this team always believes in itself and we will continue to play with that consistency.
“Tomorrow we will recover a bit and then focus on the very difficult match coming up against Serbia.”
However, former USA World Cup star and football pundit Alexi Lalas described the Swiss tactics as “disgraceful” during his analysis for the match on Fox Sports.
“The reason why he (Neymar) didn’t show up is because they tried to kill him,” Lalas fumed.
“That was a disgraceful performance by the referee and Switzerland.
“Every single time he got the ball, he’s better than everybody on the field, he can take players on and he’s got the speed – the only way to stop him is to foul him.”
Everyone who says Neymar was just falling for the sake of falling WATCH THIS. Switzerland played really dirty. They were killing Neymar on that field. #BRASUI #BRAXSUI #WorldCup that referee should be fired. #Brazil #Brasil #Neymar #notfair #FiretheReferee pic.twitter.com/B0zEakVcNY
— Nora (@leia_karakas) June 17, 2018
On the day when holders Germany were shocked 1-0 by Mexico, Brazil’s tag as pre-tournament favourites looked justified in a dominant first-half capped by Philippe Coutinho’s wonder strike to open the scoring.
However, Brazil paid for their failure to kill the game off when Steven Zuber powered home an equaliser from Xherdan Shaqiri’s corner five minutes after the break.
The pressure will now be on Brazil to kickstart their campaign when they face Costa Rica on Friday.
Earlier, Serbia beat Los Ticos 1-0 to move to the top of Group F.
Coutinho had been handed a central role behind Neymar, on his first competitive game for four months, Gabriel Jesus and Willian in a line-up filled with attacking intent from coach Tite.
The five-time world champions went about their task of erasing the memories of a 7-1 thrashing by Germany on home soil four years ago purposefully early on.
Paulinho passed up a glorious chance when his scuffed effort from close range was turned behind by Yann Sommer.
It seemed a matter of time before Brazil’s pressure paid dividends and the opener arrived in stunning style on 20 minutes.
Barcelona’s record signing picked up a loose ball on the edge of the area and in trademark fashion bent the ball crashing in off Sommer’s far post.
Neymar looked bright despite his lack of match practice as he teased the Swiss defence provoking yellow cards for Stephan Lichtsteiner, Fabian Schar and Valon Behrami.
However, Brazil failed to build on their lead as Thiago Silva and Jesus headed off target from dangerous corners and were made to pay early in the second-half.
Switzerland had offered barely any attacking threat before levelling when Zuber took advantage of a gaping hole in the heart of the Brazilian defence to head home Shaqiri’s corner.
Forced back onto the front foot, Brazil turned to Neymar for a moment of inspiration but he could only blast into the side-netting before Coutinho sliced wide with a much simpler opportunity than the one from which he opened the scoring.
Brazil were unhappy that Zuber wasn’t penalised for a slight push on Miranda for the equaliser and felt hard done by again when Jesus tumbled under a challenge from Manuel Akanji inside the area with Mexican referee Cesar Ramos unmoved.
Tite’s men ended as they had begun with a series of chances for a late winner as Neymar and Roberto Firmino headed straight at Sommer before Miranda dragged a shot inches wide.
And deep into stoppage time Schar’s outstretched leg turned a goalbound effort from Silva wide as Switzerland held out for a vital point.