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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.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

France defeat Brazil 1-0 in friendly as Benzema shines and Mano's midfield struggles

France defeated Brazil 1-0 in a match that showcased Brazil's lack of quality strikers and creativity in midfield. Coach Mano Menezes opted for a midfield composed of Hernanes, Lucas, Elias and Renato Augusto in a classic 4-4-2 formation with Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Andre Santos in defense, and Robinho and Pato up front. Mano gave the number 10 jersey to Renato Augusto of Bayer Leverkusen. After soaking up some early pressure from the 5 time World Champions, France began to settle down in the early stages by finding ways to release Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema. In the 9th minute, Bacary Sagna combined with playmaker Yoann Gorcuff to give Benzema a chance on goal but the France number 10 shot just wide. Pato, Robinho and Alves threatened for the Selecao in the first half but narrowly missed the target or failed to capitalize on minor rebounds from French keeper Hugo Lloris. The match changed dramatically in the 40th minute when Brazil number 11 Hernanes attempted a kung fu style play on a ball bouncing near Benzema's chest and made contact with the French striker. The referee promptly issued Hernanes a red card and all of a sudden, Brazil were put back on the defensive. In the 55th minute, Jeremy Menez ran down the right flank and crossed over the face of goal to Benzema who promptly tapped the ball in to give France a 1-0 lead. Menez's assist and Benzema's goal eerily recalled the 1986 assist from Rocheateau to Michel Platini to give France the equalizer that enabled them to progress to the penalty kick shoot out that ousted Brazil in the quarterfinals of the World Cup in Mexico. Brazil threatened episodically for the rest of the match, but were unable to put together any impressive combination play in midfield leading to high percentage strikes on goal. Moments after Benzema's goal, Julio Cesar saved Brazil from incurring a 2-0 deficit with a spectacular save from a Benzema header. Just after the hour, the Inter Milan keeper came to Brazil's rescue again to stop another threatening shot from Benzema.

After the match, coach Mano Menezes remained defiant about his selection of a young squad and the inexperienced midfield combination: "The red card had a major influence. In the second half things changed with us being a player down. It would be easy to hark back to Kaka or Ronaldinho, but that's not what we are about. We are looking to the future, to 2014 when Brazil will host the FIFA World Cup."

But for all of Mano's investment in renovation, his youthful squad has now suffered consecutive losses to Argentina and France, casting strong doubts about Brazil's continued place amongst the top 5 footballing nations in the world. Meanwhile, the French curse continues as the Selecao continue to struggle against a French national team that knows how to pin back the Brazilian full backs and create a maginot line in midfield. Whether under Aime Jacquet in France's 3-0 victory over Brazil in the 1998 World Cup final or Laurent Blanc in the February 9, 2011 friendly, Les Bleus conceded the occasional defensive lapse, but for the most part took the attack directly to the Brazilians in a case of the student (France) teaching the master (Brazil) a lesson about attacking football.

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