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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.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Neymar Scores Two as Brazil Beats Scotland in Style

Brazil 2-Scotland 0 (Neymar, 42; 77 (penalty))
Venue: Arsenal's Emirates Stadium, London

Brazil beat Scotland 2-0 in a glorious display of samba football that showcased the national team's depth, one touch passing, offensive vision and willingness to play the beautiful game. After withstanding some early pressure in the opening 10 minutes, Brazil burst forward in waves, utilizing both the overlapping fullbacks and the midfield as a source of attack and creative play. Elano's inclusion added spice to the attack as his wicked crosses and corner kicks found the lively Leandro Damiao on a number of occasions in his debut for the Selecao. Damiao narrowly missed converting Elano's assists twice in the first half, and Jadson threatened in the opening twenty minutes as well. Neymar, however, was the star of the show as his dribbling abilities and extraordinary positional awareness gradually began to destabilize the Scottish defense. In the 42nd minute, Andre Santos raced down the left side and found Neymar open in the box. Neymar proceeded to use his defender like a shield in curling the ball into the back of the net in a move reminiscent of the cat like prowess of Romario in the penalty area. Andre Santos, meanwhile, seems to have inherited the role of Roberto Carlos on the left side although he has a couple of years before the 2014 World Cup to master the art of defending.

Neymar threatened again immediately after the break by bursting forward from midfield and hitting the cross bar less than a minute after the half time whistle. The match was replete with high percentage scoring opportunities for Brazil. In the 53rd minute, Ramires skied a ball over the cross bar from a Dani Alves cross. Minutes later, Damiao illustrated his climbing abilities yet again by heading yet another Elano corner just wide. Neymar finally settled things in the 77th minute after one of his dribbling moves resulted in him being brought down in the box and earning a penalty kick for Brazil. The Brazilian number 11 stared at the goalkeeper's right hand side with uncanny composure for a player his age and buried the ball in the same corner of the net for a 2-0 lead that freed coach Mano Menezes to make a bevy of substitutions. The game was marred by a banana thrown onto the pitch following Neymar's penalty in what Brazil has historically understood as a gesture of racism. The banana represents a claim of primitivism about Brazil, particularly when experienced against European opponents on European soil. Roberto Carlos was recently shown a banana in Russia by a fan in one of his first matches for Anzhi, against Zenit, on March 21.

Overall, this was a fantastic result for Brazil, Neymar and for Mano the magician, in particular. We saw the midfield come alive for the first time since Brazil's match against the USA. Jadson, Lucas, Ramires and Elano combined neatly to advance the attack down the center, left and right. Damiao looked like a Brazilian number 9, even though he's clearly not ready to wear Ronaldo's shoes just yet. Neymar is easing into the number 11 jersey and will need to stay fit and put on more muscle to develop into the center forward Brazil desperately needs. Most importantly, the match against Scotland displayed that Brazil can play attacking, creative football without Robinho, Pato, Kaka, Ronaldinho and Maicon. With Paulo Henrique Ganso still recovering his form after a layoff from injury, and the likes of Hernanes, Elias, Casemiro and Lucas of Sao Paulo making their case for a place on the starting 11, the sun is suddenly shining very brightly on the Selecao.

Starting Formation:

Goalkeeper: Julio Cesar
Defense: Andre Santos, Thiago Silva, Lucio, Dani Alves
Midfield: Lucas (Liverpool), Ramires, Jadson, Elano
Strikers: Neymar, Leandro Damiao

Notable jersey numbers:

Neymar: 11
Jadson: 10
Damiao: 9
Elano: 7
Alves: 4
Santos: 6

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pato and Robinho Out of Scotland Friendly: Neymar and Damiao In

Mano Menezes has called up Internacional striker Leandro Damiao for Brazil's upcoming friendly against Scotland given the recent ankle injury sustained by Alexandre Pato in last weekend's match against Palermo. The 19 year old Damiao, who has scored 13 goals this season, represents the latest new face to Mano's roster since the former Corinthians coach took charge of the Selecao last summer. A recent muscle injury to Villareal striker Nilmar means that Damiao may join Neymar up front in what represents one of the most inexperienced strike partnerships Brazil has represented in the past few years. The absence of Pato, Robinho, Nilmar, Ronaldinho and the Hulk presents Scotland with an intriguing challenge for Scotland coach Craig Levein given that Neymar and Damiao have never played together and hence will be difficult to scout. Menezes commented that the selection of Damiao additionally enables him to work with yet another player young enough to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London.

For more on the history of Brazil v. Scotland, see:
Brazil v. Scotland: A Brief World Cup History

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ronaldo's Retirement Press Conference: A Selection of Quotes

Ronaldo announced his retirement on February 14, 2011 in a tearful press conference in Sao Paulo featuring the following reflections:

“I am here to say that I’m ending my career as a professional player. And to say that this career was beautiful, wonderful and exciting.”

“Everybody knows my history of injury. I have had in recent years, a string of injuries ranging from one side to another, from one leg to another, from one muscle to another. This pain made me anticipate the end of my career. Furthermore, four years ago I discovered, when I was in Milan, that I have hypothyroidism. It is a disorder that slows the metabolism and to control it, it is necessary to take some hormones banned in football, because they can be consider doping. I imagine that a lot of people should be sorry for making mockery about my weight, but I do not keep hard feelings. “

“I had many losses, infinite victories, made a lot of friends and don’t remember having made an enemy.”

“I want to thank all the players who worked with me and those who played against, and those who were loyal to those who were disloyal. Thank the coaches with whom I had good relationship and I had differences. And also thank the sponsors who have always believed in me.”

“I really never imagined that I would live without Corinthians. I want to thank the President, and publicly ask for forgiveness for weakening the Libertadores project. You are my brother. The history was beautiful and marvelous. I want to stay with and connected to the club in whatever way you want, President.”

"It's very hard to leave something that made me so happy. Mentally, I wanted to continue, but I have to acknowledge that I lost [the fight] to my body."

"With this announcement, it feels like it's my first death."

"The pain made me anticipate the end of my career. It hurts when I go up the stairs -- people who are close to me know this. I've given my life to football. I don't regret anything, but I can't keep going."

"I thought about it at home and realized that it was time. I had given everything that I had."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Brazil v. Scotland: A Brief World Cup History

Brazil v. Scotland World Cup Results

1974: Brazil 0 - Scotland 0
1982: Brazil 4 - Scotland 1 (Zico, Oscar, Eder, Falcao; Narey)
1990: Brazil 1 - Scotland 0 (Muller)
1998: Brazil 2 - Scotland 1 (Sampaio, Tom Boyd (own goal); John Collins)

Brazil and Scotland have played in the World Cup in 1974, 1982, 1990 and 1998. Considering that Scotland has qualified for the World Cup only eight times, the Scots can consider themselves unlucky to have drawn Brazil in four of their eight World Cup appearances. In 1974, Scotland played a highly physical match against the defending champions in Frankfurt in 1974. The game featured 50 fouls divided evenly amidst both teams. In the 12th minute, Rivelino's free kick was parried away by Scottish goalkeeper Harvey. Brazil's Nelinho took the resulting corner and Leivinha hit the cross-bar to no avail. Minutes later, Jairzinho attacked from the right but Scotland's Jardine kept the ball off the goal line. In the second half, Scotland's Lorimer posed more than one threat against Brazil by way of a dangerous 30 yard free kick and shots from all corners of the field. Both sides struggled with a pitch saturated with rain but, all in all, Brazil's team looked like a ghost of the squad that had dazzled the world in Mexico four years earlier. Rivelino wore the number 10 jersey though he failed to pose the attacking threat that had destroyed defenses in the 1970 World Cup. 1982 was a different story entirely, however. The Scots went ahead early through a goal by Narey, but from then on, it was all Brazil. Zico curled in a glorious free kick to equalize in the 33rd minute and then, just after half time, Oscar latched onto a corner from Junior to make it 2-1 Brazil. Brazil now continued the attack relentlessly on all fronts and Socrates asserted his authority in orchestrating the final two goals. In the 64th minute, Socrates found Serginho in the center, in front of goal. Serginho flicked the ball left to Eder on the left flank, who caught the goalkeeper off his line and magically curled the ball into the far right post to make it 3-1 Brazil. In the 86th minute, Socrates, lurking on the edge of the box, saw Paulo Falcao steaming forward from midfield and poked the ball into his path. Falcao made no mistake and sent a rocket into the bottom left corner of the net. As in the match against the Soviet Union, Brazil came from behind and asserted their place as favorites for the 1982 World Cup in dramatic fashion. In 1990, Brazil beat Scotland 1-0 thanks to a goal by Muller, who had come on as a substitute for the young Romario in the 65th minute. Alemao struck a lawnmower of a ball at the Scottish keeper who, unable to prevent a rebound, left the loose ball to Careca. Careca deflected the ball to his strike partner Muller, who had burst forward from the right flank to tap the ball into an open goal. In 1998, Brazil encountered Scotland in their first match of the tournament and opening group game. With all of the hype around the young sensation Ronaldo and the controversy of Romario's last minute exclusion from the squad due to injury, Brazilian journalists were ready to pounce at the slightest display of weakness from the defending champions. Brazil beat Scotland 2-1 thanks to an own goal from Tom Boyd after Cesar Sampaio opened the scoring before Brazil conceded a penalty that John Collins converted in the 38th minute.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Mano Announces Brazil Squad for Scotland Friendly

Mano Menezes announced a predictably surprising roster for Brazil's March 27 friendly against Scotland that omitted Robinho, Ronaldinho and Kaka, but recalled World Cup stars Maicon, Lucio and Elano. Citing an immediate need to prepare a squad for the July 2011 Copa America tournament in Argentina, Menezes noted that his squad selection was consistent with his larger philosophy of giving experience to new players and preparing for the possibility that Kaka and Ronaldinho may not be in full form and fitness for the 2014 World Cup. Neymar replaces Robinho up front while Sao Paulo's Lucas has received his first call-up to the national team after a sparking performance in the South America U-20 championships. The midfield features a mouthwatering combination of Liverpool's Lucas, Ramires, Sandro, Henrique, Elias, Elano, Renato Augusto, Jadson and Sao Paulo's Lucas. It will be anyone's guess as to who Mano starts in midfield given the creative power of Elano and the ability of Sao Paulo's Lucas to come forward and score goals. One has to give Mano credit for sticking with his guns and replacing, almost carte blanche, Dunga's midfield quartet of Kaka, Elano, Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo. The immediate sense we get from this squad selection is that Mano has opted to go with 2 strikers and some kind of attacking midfield combination wherein one or more midfielders has the license to come forward and score goals.

Dani Alves (Barcelona)
Maicon (Inter)
André Santos (Fenerbahçe)
Marcelo (Real Madrid
Lúcio (Inter)
Thiago Silva (Milan)
David Luiz (Chelsea)
Luisão (Benfica)

Lucas (Liverpool)
Ramires (Chelsea)
Sandro (Tottenham)
Elias (Atlético Madrid)
Elano (Santos)
Renato Augusto (Bayer Leverkusen)
Jadson (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Lucas (Sao Paulo)
Henrique (Cruzeiro)

Alexandre Pato (Milan)
Neymar (Santos)
Nilmar (Villarreal)
Jonas (Valencia)