Brazil defeated Ghana 1-0 on Monday at Craven Cottage from a goal by Leandro Damiao, the young Internacional striker in the hottest of form. Although billed as a friendly, the match represented a fierce competition between the South American giants and the 2010 World Cup quarterfinalists, beginning with end to end soccer from both teams that transitioned to a one sided attack by Brazil after Ghana’s Daniel Opare was ejected for a questionable second yellow card in the 33rd minute. The friendly featured a total of 8 yellow cards, two for Brazil, and six for Ghana.
Brazil coach Mano Menezes started with three strikers in the form of Ronaldinho, Leandro Damiao and Neymar. The three strikers played in front of Fernandinho and Elias, who in turn played in front of Lucas Leiva in his traditional defensive midfield position. The other notable addition to his squad was Marcelo in the left back position, starting in lieu of Andre Santos.
Ronaldinho’s return to the Brazilian national team after a ten month absence did wonders for the Selecao as the 2002 World Cup winner added a much needed dose of experience and leadership to the Brazilian front line. Dinho curled in dangerous corners throughout the match and at least a couple of his free kicks almost found the back of the net had it not been for some spectacular goalkeeping by the Ghanaian goalkeeper Kwarasey. Neymar posed problems for the Ghanaian defense by popping up on both the left and right flanks and dribbling from a wide position toward the center of the field.
Leandro Damiao appeared to open the scoring in the 26th minute from an assist by Neymar, but he was rightly deemed offside. Just before half time, the Internacional hit man struck again by latching onto a magnificent through ball from Fernandinho and then dispatching it to the keeper’s right with clinical precision. In the second half, Mano opted to up the ante of his team’s attack by substituting Fernandinho for Hulk, effectively playing four strikers.
Hulk added spice to the attack on the right flank by combining deftly with Elias and Dani Alves but Brazil struggled to break down a Ghanaian team that had gone into a defensive shell after Opare’s ejection. Mano substituted Pato for Damiao late in the match to vary Brazil’s attack further, and the move almost paid dividends when Ronaldinho whipped in a curling ball that Pato headed onto goal only to encounter another remarkable save from Kwarasey in the 85th minute.
Overall, this was a highly encouraging match for Brazil and a disappointing performance by Ghana. The match began with Ghana threatening the Brazilian goal from both flanks but the Black Stars decided to limit the damage after going down to 10 men rather than finding a way to score an equalizer. On Brazil’s side, the match illustrated the enduring brilliance of Ronaldinho, Marcelo’s versatility as a left back, Leandro Damiao’s imposing presence in the box and the mouthwatering potential of a 4-1-2-3 formation. Mano continues to surprise as coach of the Brazilian national team with his squad selections, starting line-ups and substitutions. Brazil now face Argentina in their next international friendly on September 14.