Brazil carved out an unimpressive 1-0 victory against Costa Rica on Friday thanks to a goal by Neymar. Despite a dominant performance against Argentina in the second leg of the Superclasico, coach Mano Menezes stayed true to form by juggling the Brazilian starting line-up. Most interesting about Brazil’s formation was Menezes’s midfield pairing of Ralf and Luiz Gustavo, behind Ronaldinho, Lucas Moura da Silva and Neymar. Fred started the match as the lone striker. Manchester United's Fabio earned his first cap as Brazil right back while Barcelona's Adriano took up the left back position.
Costa Rica threatened in the first ten minutes and episodically throughout the match as well, but Brazil gradually found their rhythm and began stringing together combination passes in midfield in the second half. The goal came in the 60th minute from a Dani Alves cross that skirted by the onrushing Fred, and then bounced into the path of Neymar who poached the ball into the back of the net for his second consecutive goal in the yellow jersey. Twelve minutes later, Brazil had yet another chance when some deft midfield combination play allowed Ronaldinho to lob the ball to Fred, who headed a difficult ball that the Costa Rican keeper Navas saved. The ball subsequently ended up back near the top of the box, from which Neymar’s curling shot caromed off the top of the post.
For all of Brazil’s critics, and there were plenty after a match like this, Brazil’s midfield is starting to gel in a distinctly Brazilian fashion that bears little resemblance to European football. Oscar and Hernanes replaced Luiz Gustavo and Lucas Moura at halftime in a substitution that revealed the depth of Mano Menezes’s options in the center of the park. Fans should begin to relinquish the expectation that Brazil will stick to a rigidly tactical formation. Mano is slowly but surely building a squad that switches positions and attacks through the midfield, alongside the traditional counter-attacking flank attack. The flank attack remains powerful, as evinced by Dani Alves’s role in Neymar’s goal, but Mano’s immediate investment is clearly around building a group of 6-8 midfielders such as Lucas Leiva, Ramires, Ralf, Luis Gustavo, Oscar, Hernanes, Lucas Moura, Jadson and Ganso that can maintain possession and substitute for one another throughout a difficult tournament such as the World Cup. Mano’s next problem is scoring more goals, but for now, he evidently believes that the midfield is where Brazil has had its problems since 2002.