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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.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mano's Next Move: Hernanes for Lucas Leiva?

The obvious question, for any serious follower of the Brazilian football, is whether Mano Menezes has the courage to replace Lucas Leiva with Hernanes in the team's deepest midfield position. On one hand, Leiva has become somewhat of a staple in the Brazilian starting line-up. On the other, insofar as the squad is increasingly modeled on Tele Santana’s legendary Brazilian side of 1982, Mano may well decide to opt for greater technical ability in a deeper midfield position and share the burden of playmaking responsibilities currently shouldered by Ronaldinho and Kaka with someone like Hernanes, who can also switch gears to play more of an offensive midfield role such as the position he plays at Lazio. Given Kaka's recall, the stage is set for Mano to play two number 10s in ways analogous to Socrates and Zico, either in the form of Kaka and Ronaldinho, Ronaldinho and Ganso, or some combination thereof. The question now is whether Mano has the courage to play Hernanes and Fernandinho together behind the two number 10s in a formation that recalls the deep midfield pairing of Falcao and Cerezzo in 1982. Starting Hernanes instead of Lucas Leiva could well take some pressure off the Brazilian number 10s and allow creativity in midfield to emerge from a deeper position in the center of the park.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Brazil Squad For Gabon and Egypt Friendlies

Mano Menezes named a squad of European based Brazilian players for November friendlies against Gabon and Egypt that featured Kaka, Marcelo and Hulk.

Key points of Mano’s squad selection are as follows:

• Kaka’s return to the Brazilian team after an inspiring start to the season at Real Madrid, featuring three goals, two assists and a consolidated role in Jose Mourinho’s line-up. Kaka returns to the Brazilian team after over a year. He last played for Brazil in their quarterfinal loss to the Netherlands at the 2010 World Cup.

• Marcelo’s selection as left back given his brilliant performance and goal against Mexico.

• Hulk’s selection after a respectable performance against Mexico. Hulk is likely to start and lead the attack, particularly given the absence of Neymar and Leandro Damiao.

• Hernanes, who may end up replacing Lucas Leiva as the team evolves.

• Willian’s inclusion as a 23 year old attacking midfielder who plays for Shakhtar.

Reagrding Kaka, Mano Menezes remarked: “I think of Kaka as I do of Ronaldinho. We need players of their experience in the national team. That doesn’t mean he’s already done enough but you have more confidence in him being able to produce more and more at the highest level.”

Brazil play Gabon in Libreville on November 10 and Egypt in Doha on November 14.

Goalkeepers: Neto (Fiorentina), Diego Alves (Valencia).

Defenders: Marcelo (Real Madrid), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Adriano (Barcelona), Alex Sandro (Porto), Fabio (Manchester United), Thiago Silva (AC Milan), David Luiz (Chelsea), Luisao (Benfica).

Midfielders: Dudu (Dynamo Kiev), Elias (Sporting, Portugal), Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk), Hernanes (Lazio), Kaka (Real Madrid), Lucas Leiva (Liverpool), Luiz Gustavo (Bayern Munich), Bruno Cesar (Benfica), Sandro (Tottenham).

Strikers: Hulk (Porto), Jonas (Valencia), Kleber (Porto), Willian (Shakhtar Donetsk)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Kaka Scores For Real Madrid Against Villareal

Kaka scored again in the most convincing demonstration to date of his return to form after over a year of injuries. In Real Madrid’s match-up against Villareal, Kaka scored with his left foot in a move that revealed his supreme sense of balance and confidence on the ball. Kaka turned, found the ball on his left foot, and dispatched a curling rocket of a shot past Villareal goalkeeper Diego Lopez’s right hand to give Real Madrid their second goal in a 3-0 victory. His return to form increasingly suggests the likelihood of a recall to the Brazilian national team, complete with a possible pairing alongside Ronaldinho at the heart of Brazil’s attacking midfield.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ronaldinho Teaches Neymar Free Kicks

In this rare piece of footage, we see Ronaldinho on the far right, slotting home free kicks as if they were billiard balls into the nearest slot. Here, Dinho, presumably in the lead up to one of Brazil’s recent friendlies, teaches Neymar the sublime art of curling in a free kick. The clip reveals a model of mentorship that transcends the coach-player relationship and hinges instead on the transfer of knowledge from the experienced player, Ronaldinho, to the gifted protégé, Neymar.

Ronaldinho’s education of Neymar recalls in the context of Brazil's recent friendly against Mexico recalls yet another famous teacher-student relationship in Brazilian football from over a decade ago, namely, the strike partnership of Romario and Ronaldo. In the Brazil v. Mexico friendly on April 30, 1997 in Miami, crowds flocked to see Romario and Ronaldo play alongside each other, with specific attention to the young sensation Ronaldo at the height of his power. But the 31 year old Romario showed the 20 year old protégé Ronaldo that he still had a few tricks up his sleeve with a magnificent hat-trick in a 4-0 victory for Brazil. Everyone had come to see the great Ronaldo but Romario showed there were still some lessons to be learned from the master.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ronaldinho Sees Red For Flamengo

Ronaldinho seems to be back in the time warp of the 2002 World Cup. First, he scored a brilliant free kick against Mexico, as in the World Cup quarterfinal against England. And this Saturday, in Flamengo's Brazil Serie A match against Ceara, Ronaldinho earned a red card that sequentially corresponded to the red card he received for fouling Danny Mills soon after his extraordinary free kick against David Seaman. The Brazilian playmaker received a red card in the 50th minute after kicking Heleno, who appeared to elbow Dinho in the course of a tackle. Flamengo held on to a 1-0 lead thanks to a goal from Deivid. Flamengo now moves into fourth place, three points behind league leaders Corinthians.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Kaka Signals Return To Form With Goal Against Real Betis

Kaka delivered yet another inspired performance for Real Madrid this season by scoring Madrid’s second goal against Real Betis, finding teammate Gonzalo Higuain and threatening the Real Betis goal in other moments. In the 59th minute, Cristiano Ronaldo raced down the left side of the pitch and passed to an unmarked Kaka in the box who unleashed a curling strike to the keeper’s left with accuracy and conviction. Kaka was man of the match in the Real Madrid’s September 27 Champions League victory against Ajax where he scored one goal and set up Karim Benzema for another. He also impressed in last week’s 4-0 victory against Espanyol. Kaka’s resurgence of form will give Mano Menezes plenty to think as Brazil’s midfield is now bursting with talents such as Ronaldinho, Lucas Moura, Hernanes, Oscar and Fernandinho.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Brazil Clinches Stunning 2-1 Victory Against Mexico

Brazil secured a thrilling, come from behind victory against Mexico on Tuesday evening in a friendly match that featured an own goal, a spectacular Ronaldinho free kick, a left footed rocket into the roof of the net from Marcelo, a red card, a penalty save and promising play from Hulk in his first start for the national team. The match began at an electric pace, with Mexico, the home team, taking the attack to the five time World Champions. In the tenth minute, one of Mexico’s attacks down the right flank paid dividends when a cross from Pablo Barrera caused David Luiz to inadvertently flick the ball into his own net to give Mexico a 1-0 lead. All of a sudden, Brazil found themselves down a goal, away from home, with a Mexican team determined to use its pace to maximum advantage to disrupt its short passing game.

Hulk, Neymar and Lucas dominated the attack for Brazil while Ronaldinho orchestrated attacks from midfield with the help of Marcelo and Dani Alves. Hulk added an extra dimension to Brazil’s attack by switching places on both flanks and attacking down the center as well, leading with his preferred left foot. Neymar posed additional problems for the Mexican defense but the majority of Brazil’s shots in the first half were either off target or lacking sufficient pace to threaten the Mexican goal. After earning the early goal, Mexico opted to defend with eight men behind the ball and counter-attack. Brazil responded in trademark fashion by bringing a central defender like David Luiz forward to join the attack, but Mexico defended well and frustrated Neymar and Hulk.

The game took a dramatic turn late into the first half when Dani Alves received a red card for fouling Javier "El Chicharito" Hernandez in a Mexican counter-attack that burst through the center of the Brazilian defense. Botafogo goalkeeper Jefferson saved Guardado’s penalty to keep Brazil in the game, but Brazil went into the half down a goal, down a man, away from home, playing a Mexican side undefeated in fifteen games under coach José Manuel de la Torre.

The second half opened with Brazil struggling to make sense of how to take the attack to Mexico given their one man deficit. Mano Menezes replaced Lucas Moura with Barcelona’s Adriano to preserve a back four given Alves's ejection. Soon enough, the match turned scrappy as Brazil contested every challenge tooth and claw. And in the 70th minute, after recovering from the daze of their one goal deficit, Brazil began to fight for the first time in Menezes’s tenure. Marcelo began to lose his temper, as did Ronaldinho, Hulk and Adriano. Screaming in frustration at each other and the referee, the Selecao protested close calls and fouls not given.

79th minute. A foul near the edge of the box. Neymar traces the arc of a parabola as he goes flying. Ronaldinho steps up to take the free kick and puckers his mouth upward as he stares at the goal with focused concentration. The ball curls, spins, dips and bulges the back of the net as Oswaldo Sánchez lunges to his left. Dinho has scored and brought Brazil level after being a man down and a goal down. A touching embrace with Neymar in the goal celebration.

83rd minute. Marcelo charges up the left flank, receives a give and go from Neymar, and then bolts into the box. Staggering past a posse of Mexican defenders, Marcelo keeps his head down and sends a rocket into the roof of the net. Brazil leads.

Brazil holds on for an impressive come from behind victory. And for the first time since the Dunga era, they look like a team again. They look like Brazil again.

Squads

Brazil: Jefferson, Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Marcelo; Lucas Leiva, Fernandinho; Ronaldinho; Lucas Moura, Hulk, Neymar.

Mexico: Oswaldo Sanchez; Carlos Salcido, Rafael Marquez, Francisco Javier Rodriguez, Efrain Juarez; Jorge Torres, Israel Castro; Pablo Barrera, Andres Guardado, Giovani dos Santos; Javier Hernandez.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Summary: Brazil Defeat Mexico 2-1

Brazil earned a dramatic 2-1 victory over Mexico on Tuesday thanks to late goals from Ronaldinho and Marcelo after conceding an own goal within the first ten minutes through David Luiz. The match displayed the comeback and fight of Brazil's team after going down a goal, away from home, to a young, pacy Mexican team. The friendly also highlighted the caliber of Brazil's fullbacks Marcelo and Adriano. For all of his critics, Mano Menezes's team is finally starting to take shape. A brilliant game from Brazil, particularly given that Dani Alves received a red card at the end of the first half.

Goals:
Mexico: David Luiz (OG), 10
Brazil: Ronaldinho 79, Marcelo 83

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Brazil Defeat Costa Rica 1-0 As Mano's Midfield Experiment Continues

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.