Brazil and Serbia both harbored hopes of reaching the World Cup knockout stage as they entered their Group E finale on Wednesday, but only the Seleção are going through.
Paulinho scored in the first half, Thiago Silva scored in the second half and Brazil beat Serbia 2-0 to win the group and advance to a round-of-16 clash vs. Mexico. Switzerland's draw vs. Costa Rica in the other group finale sent the Swiss through in second, while Serbia is headed home.
Gabriel Jesus pressured early for Brazil, getting free on the left-hand side only to be denied by on-rushing goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic in the fourth minute.
Brazil suffered a massive setback in the 10th minute, when left back superstar Marcelo was forced out of the match with an injury. He was replaced by Filipe Luis.
Brazil continued to push despite Marcelo's absence, and Neymar nearly struck in the 25th minute. Gabriel Jesus managed to squeeze the ball through a defender, where Neymar latched onto it at the near post. He took a blast trying to tuck it in the far post from an acute angle, but Stojkovic got enough of a hand on it to tip it wide of the mark.
Brazil got its lead in the 35th minute, and it came from Paulinho. The Barcelona midfielder ran onto a wonderful pass over the top from his club teammate, Philippe Coutinho, and flicked a low lob over the onrushing Stojkovic to make it 1-0. Given that Switzerland had taken the lead on Costa Rica, Brazil needed that goal to remain atop the group. With the way things stood at that moment, Serbia was out.
Neymar nearly made it 2-0 in sensational fashion in the second minute of first-half stoppage time. He had the space to fire a curling blast from 20 yards and very nearly picked out the opposite upper 90, only to have it curl wide of the post.
Brazil pushed for a second as the second half began, and it nearly came from, again, Neymar. Coutinho played a great ball into space for the PSG star, who ran onto it and carried toward goal on the right-hand side. Stojkovic made a kick save, though, keeping it 1-0. With Switzerland level with Costa Rica in the other group finale, Serbia needs not only to continue defending, but come away with a win in order to go through.
The Serbians nearly got their lifeline when Alisson came off his line for a cross and mishit his punch. It fell right to Aleksandar Mitrovic, who headed down but hit it right at the Brazilian goalkeeper, who happily made the save.
Mitrovic had another chance in the 65th minute when he sized up a header off a cross from the right, but again he headed it down right at Alisson, who calmly saved.
Serbia was left to rue those missed opportunities, as Brazil doubled its lead minutes later. It came off a corner kick, with veteran center back Thiago Silva heading home to make it 2-0.
Stojkovic kept it at 2-0 in the 86th minute on a fluke play, when Neymar ran onto a deflected ball and tried to score from point-blank range on a lofted finish, only for the goalkeeper to swat his chance away.
Denying Neymar from scoring was a small consoloation, though, as Serbia goes out, while Brazil prepares for the knockout stage.
For highlights from the other simultaneous Group E finale between Switzerland and Costa Rica, read on here.
Here were the lineups for both teams:
Here are the rosters for both sides:
Goalkeepers: Vladimir Stojkovic (Partizan Belgrade), Predrag Rajkovic (Maccabi Tel Aviv), Marko Dmitrovic (Eibar)
Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov (AS Roma), Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St. Petersburg), Dusko Tosic (Guangzhou R&F), Antonio Rukavina (Villarreal), Milos Veljkovic (Werder Bremen), Milan Rodic (Red Star Belgrade), Uros Spajic (Krasnodar), Nikola Milenkovic (Fiorentina)
Midfielders: Nemanja Matic (Manchester United), Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio), Marko Grujic (Liverpool), Adem Ljajic (Torino), Dusan Tadic (Southampton), Filip Kostic (Hamburg SV), Andrija Zivkovic (Benfica), Nemanja Radonjic (Red Star Belgrade)
Forwards: Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United), Aleksandar Prijovic (PAOK Salonika), Luka Jovic (Benfica)
Manager: Mladen Krstajic
Goalkeepers: Alisson (Roma), Ederson (Man City), Cassio (Corinthians)
Defenders: Danilo (Man City), Fagner (Corinthians), Thiago Silva (PSG), Miranda (Inter), Marquinhos (PSG), Pedro Geromel (Gremio), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid)
Midfielders: Casemiro (Real Madrid), Paulinho (Barcelona), Fernandinho (Man City), Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan), Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona), Fred (Shakhtar), Willian (Chelsea)
Forwards: Neymar (PSG), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Gabriel Jesus (Man City), Douglas Costa (Juventus), Taison (Shakhtar)