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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game. More generally, the blog examines questions of leadership, collaboration, teamwork, mentorship and the relationship between sport and aesthetics.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fred Claims Full Fitness After Months Long Thigh Injury Saga

According to Sambafoot, Fluminense striker Fred has assured Brazil fans that he is fully fit and aspires to score goals soon to clinch his place in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s squad for the 2014 World Cup. The news of Fred’s fitness comes as an unexpected twist in a months-long injury saga that had many Brazil fans doubting whether he would be fit for the World Cup at all. The prospect of Fred’s impending return to the Selecao for the March 5 friendly against South Africa comes in the wake of intensified debate about the quality of Brazil’s strikeforce with World Cup winners Rivelino (1970) and Edmilson (2002) amongst the chorus of commentators that have delivered scathing critiques about the quality of Brazil’s attack. Rivelino, for example, criticized the selection of Hulk by claiming that his inclusion in the squad was intended primarily to distract defenders and thereby create more space for midfielders such as Oscar and Paulinho to come forward. Rivelino was also quick to note the quality of Brazil’s defense as well as the corresponding mediocrity of its attack, with the exception of Neymar. Assuming Fred is fit and selected for the 2014 World Cup as planned, he will bear the weight of the number 9 jersey, which—during Scolari’s previous tenure as coach of the Brazil squad—was worn by none other than Brazil’s Ronaldo in a tournament in which he scored 8 goals, including 2 in the final against Germany in 2002.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Neymar Scores Screamer Against Rayo Vallecano

In the February 15 La Liga match between Barcelona and Rayo Vallecano, Neymar picked up the ball near centre circle, fought off one challenge, sprinted toward the box and dispatched this screamer of a shot into the top left corner of the net. This was Neymar’s first match back from injury and he was quick to show the footballing world that he will be a force to be reckoned with at the 2014 World Cup. This was Neymar’s 12th goal of the season and his 7th league goal for Barcelona. The goal capped a 6-0 demolition of Rayo Vallencano by Barcelona.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Scolari Closes In On 2014 World Cup Roster With Europe-based Player Selections For South Africa Friendly

Today, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari announced the selection of 16, Europe-based players for Brazil's friendly against South Africa on March 5. The squad selection featured few surprises and suggests that Scolari and technical director Carlos Alberto Parreira are closing in on their final roster for World Cup 2014. Robinho and Kaka, for example, were omitted from the squad in the clearest indication to date that neither AC Milan player will feature in World Cup 2014. Bayern Munich right back Rafinha represented the most surprising inclusion in the squad for the South Africa friendly. Meanwhile, Manchester City’s Fernandinho was also included after several stellar performances at the club level led to rumors of his impending recall.

Highlights of the squad selection are as follows:

•Selection of the defensive triumvirate of David Luiz, Thiago Silva and Dante for the two slots in Brazil's central defensive midfield
•Continuation of the defensive midfield partnership of Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho, although we should expect to see Fernandinho at some point in the friendly against South Africa
•Oscar or Ramires will earn the playmaker role behind the attacking triumvirate of Neymar, Willian and Hulk
•Bernard and Ramires may play wide roles to substitute for Neymar and Hulk, depending on fitness and form
•Julio Cesar retains his spot in the squad despite performing in scarcely a handful of games at QPR

Notable exclusions include Lucas Leiva due to injury, and Hernanes. Scolari spoke of the decision to include Fernandinho and Rafinha as follows:
Fernandinho's been playing really well for Manchester [City], he's been attracting attention ... so here's his opportunity…Rafinha's also been playing really well for Bayern. He's had experience of playing for the national team at other levels.
In addition to the players announced today, Scolari plans to pick three or four Brazil-based players in late February or early March because many have yet to achieve full fitness given the late start specific to the Brazilian domestic football calendar. Possible domestic players that may be up for selection include Dede, Leandro Damiao, Paulo Henrique Ganso and goalkeeper Jefferson. Meanwhile, the drama about Fluminense striker Fred continues as he struggles to recover from a lingering thigh injury in time for the World Cup.

Provisional Squad For March 5, Brazi v. South Africa friendly in Soccer City, Johannesburg

Goalkeeper: Julio Cesar (QPR)

Defenders: David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Rafinha (Bayer Munich), Marcelo (Real Madrid)

Midfielders: Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Paulinho (Tottenham), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Ramires (Chelsea), Oscar (Chelsea)

Strikers: Neymar (Barcelona), Willian (Chelsea), Hulk (Zenit), Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Brazil Scrape By Chile 2-1 To Notch Up Sixth Consecutive Victory

Brazil edged to a 2-1 victory over Chile in a closely contested friendly in Tuesday’s friendly in Toronto. Hulk scored the first goal for Brazil with a low, left footed strike from an Oscar pass in the 13th minute, at a moment in the game when Brazil looked destined to steamroll their opponents. Chile, however, weathered the initial storm from Brazil and gained more possession throughout the match, despite obtaining little in the way of high percentage shots on goal. Chile equalized in the 70th minute thanks to a Vargas strike and some sloppy defending from David Luiz, but Brazil managed to find the winning goal nine minutes later when Neymar drifted from the left into the center and fed the ball to Maicon on the right flank, who subsequently crossed to Robinho. Robinho delightfully headed in Maicon’s cross to score his first goal for the national team since 2011.

Neymar delivered a sub-par showing overall despite some bright moments, as did his Barcelona teammate, Chile’s Alexis Sanchez. Hulk, on the other hand, once again illustrated his usefulness to the team as an attacker with another powerful left footed shot that hit the woodwork, just inches from goal. Today’s win over Chile means Brazil have now secured six consecutive victories as Scolari wraps up his preparations for the 2014 World Cup, having already brazenly declared that Brazil will be 2014 World Cup champions after the team’s 5-0 victory against Honduras on Saturday. Brazil have now scored 20 goals in their last six matches, while conceding only two. For Chile, on the other hand, today's defeat at the hands of their South American brethren means the end of an unbeaten run dating back to March of this year.

Chile demonstrated their attacking mentality and technical quality throughout the match, but were generally unable to get behind the Brazilian defense given the persistence of Brazil’s defensive midfielders Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho. Chile did, however, demonstrate that Brazil are susceptible to lapses of concentration that, in combination with missed chances and poor finishing, render them vulnerable to defeat thanks to a single defensive error. Players from both teams exhibited fatigue as the game edged to a close and thereby raised the question of whether today’s generation of players will be at peak fitness as the World Cup approaches, particularly given the physical demands imposed on them by their league fixtures. Overall, however, today’s match delivered a great result for Brazil but a mediocre performance from both teams, who will need to consider how to ensure their players stay rested and injury free as they continue to slot in national friendlies alongside their club commitments during the final phase of preparation for World Cup 2014.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Brazil Pummels Honduras 5-0 As Scolari's Bench Players Underscore Selecao's Depth Of Talent

Brazil delivered an impressive display of goal scoring power against Honduras with a 5-0 victory in Saturday’s friendly in Miami that underscored the depth of talent amongst their bench players, most of whom were responsible for today’s goals. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s starting lineup featured Maicon, David Luiz, Dante and Maxwell in defense, Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho in midfield, and the attacking quartet of Oscar, Bernard, Neymar and Jo. Meanwhile, Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suarez fielded the feared strike partnership of Carlos Costly and Jerry Bengston in front of the likes of Arnold Peralta, Roger Espinoza and Wilson Palacios. Brazil were missing Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Marcelo and centerforward Fred due to injury. Meanwhile, Scolari opted to start Bernard over Hulk as the attacking option on the left wing, with Neymar in a deeper, more central position behind Jo.

Honduras got off to a sprightly start by stopping Brazil from developing any kind of attacking rhythm through a combination of disciplined defending and physical play. Neymar, in particular, received the lion’s share of tough tackles and challenges throughout the match, but managed to leave the game unscathed. The game’s momentum turned Brazil’s way when Paulinho found space to race down the left flank and cross to Bernard, in a center forward position, who rifled a shot high into the net to give Brazil a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute. Bernard's goal allowed Brazil to settle into their familiar passing game and subsequently dominate possession for the remainder of the half, although the Honduras team’s physical handling of Neymar continued to make things challenging for the Brazilians.

The second half, however, was a different story entirely. Neymar picked out Dante from a corner kick in the 55th minute such that the Bayern Munich defender headed in his second goal for the Selecao to give Brazil a crucial 2-0 lead. Dante’s goal energized the Brazilians and paved the way for Brazil substitutes Willian, Robinho, Ramires and Hulk to change the pace of the game for Brazil in the second half. Willian and Robinho caused problems for Honduras in central defense while Hulk and Ramires imposed themselves on the left and right flank, respectively. Ramires set up Brazil’s third goal with a cross to Robinho, who headed the ball down for a Paulinho shot that took a deflection and fell into the path of Maicon, who made no mistake in putting the ball into the back of the net in the 66th minute.

In the 70th minute, Hulk raced down the left flank and then crossed to Willian, to make it 4-0. Four minutes later, the Zenit striker then scored Brazil’s fifth goal of the evening with a powerfully struck shot with his left foot after receiving the ball courtesy of a Ramires back heel pass followed by a Robinho back heel assist. Scolari, meanwhile, brought out even more substitutes in the form of Lucas Leiva and Marquinhos to build out his team's bench experience further with this generation of players in the national team. Honduras was left chasing the ball as Brazil controlled possession and attacked in the last 20 minutes with dazzling pace, dribbling ability and sheer muscular strength and persistence in winning the back the ball.

Overall, this was a hugely disappointing night for Honduras, and a sparkling display by Brazil, who managed to score five goals after some choppy play in the initial 20 minutes. Scolari will be delighted by yet another winning performance without his first choice fullbacks, Dani Alves and Marcelo, as well as the inspired play of Dante, Bernard, Willian and Hulk. Today, Hulk found the back of the net for Brazil for the first time in 2013 and he celebrated by delivering a captain's salute that recalled Cristiano Ronaldo's post-goal salute in response to criticism from FIFA President Sepp Blatter. Scolari’s problem now will be whittling down the roster to a 22 man squad as competition for a place in the Brazil starting 22, let alone 11, multiplies intensely. Brazil now face a sterner test against Chile on November 19 in Toronto but are nevertheless starting to look like five time World Champions, once again, for the first time in a long time. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Brazil Scrape By Zambia, Leaving Scolari To Mull Over Options In Attack

Brazil defeated Zambia 2-0 to secure their fourth consecutive victory although the match illustrated that coach Luiz Felipe Scolari still has significant work to do before the World Cup in order to build a championship winning team. In the second half, substitute Oscar opened the scoring for Brazil with a sublime curling strike, and Dede followed-up minutes later by heading in a Neymar corner. Scolari had started with the attacking trio of Neymar, Pato and Lucas Moura behind Ramires, but Pato, Moura and Ramires failed to impress such that Brazil resorted to the familiar formation of Oscar, Neymar, Jo, Hulk in the second half. Bench players Maxwell and Dede impressed in defense, with Maxwell, in particular, making a convincing a case as the first choice backup to Real Madrid's Marcelo. Up front, however, the first half failure of Ramires, Pato and Lucas Mouras to pose any kind of credible, sustained attacking threat means that Scolari still has thinking to do as he considers backup alternatives to Oscar, Hulk and centre-forwards Jo and Fred. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Brazil Defeat South Korea 2-0 Thanks To Goals By Neymar and Oscar

Brazil marched to a decisive 2-0 victory against South Korea on Saturday thanks to goals by Neymar and Oscar. Confronted with a pacy, skilled South Korean side playing at home in Seoul, Brazil struggled to break down the South Korean defense in the opening stages despite owning the lion’s share of possession. Luiz Felipe Scolari fielded his trademark 4-3-3 formation marked by David Luiz and Dante in central defense, and first choice fullbacks Dani Alves and Marcelo on the right and left wing, respectively. Dante started alongside Luiz given the recent injury to captain Thiago Silva. With the exception of goalkeeper Jefferson, the rest of the Brazil squad remained the same as the one used for the recent friendly against Portugal with Neymar, Jo and Hulk leading the attack in front of Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho and Oscar. Scolari substituted Ramires for Hulk in the second half as the Zenit striker lacked a quality first touch on the ball and failed to find his rhythm.

Brazil attacked effectively in the first half with Marcelo and Dani Alves roaming up and down the flanks in ways that recalled the brilliance of Roberto Carlos and Cafu, from another generation. Neymar challenged the Korean keeper with a long range, free kick on target in the 10th minute and Hulk had a golden opportunity in the 14th minute when a pass from Jo left him with the onrushing keeper to beat, although he failed to flick the ball over Jung Sung-Ryong as required. Korea’s most promising opportunity came in the 27th minute and immediately thereafter, when Lee Chung Young whipped in a promising cross that David Luiz expertly cleared before either Jefferson or Ja Cheol arrived at the ball. South Korea subsequently won two additional corners that Luiz and Marcelo succeeded in clearing, leaving the match scoreless going into the last 15 minutes of the first half.

After receiving some rough treatment on the left flank from the Korean defense in the form of multiple harsh challenges, Neymar continued to lead Brazil’s search for the go ahead goal by dropping deep into midfield and orchestrating attacks that flowed through both sides of the field. The Barcelona starlet was ultimately rewarded in the 44th minute when a streaming run on goal resulted in a free kick that he deftly curled just inches inside of the near post to make it 1-0 Brazil. Neymar's spectacular free kick goal illustrated how Brazil needed a dead ball situation to break down a disciplined, speedy Korean team that had done well to neutralize the attacking threat posed by the overlapping fullbacks.

The second half continued in much the same vein, with Brazil attacking in waves and Korea responding on the counterattack, until a moment of magic from Oscar made it a two goal game. A visionary pass from Paulinho sliced open the center of the Korean defense, enabling Oscar to navigate around the keeper and score with a powerfully struck left footed shot. Up two goals, Scolari brought on Hernanes and Lucas Leiva for Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho, giving Leiva his first Selecao appearance since 2011 under Mano Menezes. Brazil later substituted Maxwell for Marcelo in an apparent attempt by Scolari to give his bench players valuable experience at the international level.

Korea delivered an admirable performance all around and displayed their legendary physical fitness and persistence until the dying minutes. Lucas Leiva and Hernanes found themselves preoccupied with defensive duties until the close of the match, as did Maxwell, who assumed more of a defensive role than his counterpart Marcelo. Once again, however, it was Neymar who stole the show for Brazil alongside a heroic performance by David Luiz in the captain’s armband. Luiz took command of the Brazil defense in the absence of Thiago Silva and cleared the ball on many an occasion in which the Korean attack opted for the aerial route into the box. Oscar, meanwhile, delivered one of his most impressive, recent performances in the Brazil shirt such that fans will be looking for the Neymar-Oscar chemistry to develop further as Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup continue. Neymar has now scored a whopping 27 goals in 43 appearances for Brazil.