Brazil drew 0-0 against the Netherlands in a friendly match that was rife with goal scoring opportunities but devoid of cases where the ball legitimately hit the back of the net. Mano played a 4-3-3 formation with Lucas, Ramires and Elano in midfield and Neymar, Robinho and Fred as attackers, in front of the expected defensive combination of Andre Santos, Thiago Silva, Lucio and Dani Alves. Holland’s Ibrahim Afellay had two golden opportunities for the Dutch in the opening half that were saved by Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar. Moreover, Robin Van Persie missed the opportunity to direct an aerial ball on target soon before the half time whistle. Brazil, meanwhile, had opportunities in the first half from a Ramires goal that was deemed offside and later, a long range Ramires strike that narrowly missed the top left corner.
Brazil dominated the second half as Neymar, in particular, began to impose his authority in and around the box. The Neymar, Robinho and Fred combination caused the Dutch defense problems early in the second half, but the Brazilian strikers simply failed to find the back of the net. Neymar had a number of shots on target saved by Dutch goalkeeper Tim Krul and, meanwhile, Robinho and Dani Alves pressed the attack for Brazil as well. Robinho’s strike curled toward goal after bouncing off the keeper’s feet but it was cleared off the line by Joris Mathijsen, away from the onrushing Fred. Brazil continued to attack but to no avail, with Ramires ultimately earning a second yellow card for a foul on Arjen Robben roughly ten minutes from time that resulted in his ejection.
For Brazil, this match represented a phenomenal display of defending from Lucio and Thiago Silva, two of the best center backs in the world. The second half witnessed some inspiring attacking play from the Selecao that would have created a bulge or two in the back of the net had it not been for a combination of luck and Tim Krul’s remarkable goalkeeping. Clearly, 4-3-3 is the formation for Brazil as it renders it very difficult to mark the combination of Neymar, Robinho and another striker, whether it be Fred or Leandro Damiao. If Mano ever has the luxury of fielding Paulo Henrique Ganso in a 4-2-1-3 combination, with Lucas and Ramires behind Ganso, Brazil is likely to win more matches against top 20 opponents. The other option is to bring on The Hulk as the center forward to replace Fred. But these are tactical questions that are easy for a journalist to make and much more difficult for a coach to implement in practice when he has to consider the culture of the team and its ethos on and off the field. Clearly, what we are seeing here is a lightweight Brazil team doing as best as it can given the talent at its disposal, though struggling to pull its weight against heavyweight contenders such as France, Argentina and the Dutch. Neymar had several high percentage chances that a more experienced Brazilian striker would have buried in the back of the net. If Brazil loses against Romania, Mano may have no option but to call upon the services of The Hulk to obtain more conversions from the Brazilian attack. Overall, the team looks like it is learning to find each other and create space and opportunities. The Selecao now just needs some quality strikers that can create a bulge in the back of the onion bag when given space in the box.