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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.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Brazil Drop Ganso For South Africa and China Friendlies

Brazil coach Mano Menezes announced his selection of players for September friendlies against South Africa and China on Thursday. Menezes selected many of the players who played in the 2012 Olympics and Brazil’s recent friendly against Sweden. Mano dropped Paulo Henrique Ganso and Alexandre Pato from the squad, the latter of whom is suffering from a recent injury. In addition to players from the Olympic squad, the selection features Barcelona's Dani Alves, Corinthians defensive midfielder Paulinho, Chelsea midfielder Ramires, Vasco da Gama’s exciting central defender Dede and Atletico Mineiro’s central defender Rever.

Highlights of Mano’s squad selection include the following:

•The continued omission of Ronaldinho and Kaka, who now appear to be almost squarely out of contention for a spot in the national team as long as Menezes is in charge
•The return of Real Madrid's Marcelo to the left back position after sitting out the game against Sweden due to a red card earned in the recent friendly against Argentina
•The inclusion of Olympic stars Oscar, Neymar, Leandro Damiao and Hulk
•The inclusion of Dede and Rever as alternatives to Juan Jesus and Bruno Uvini from the Olympic squad

Overall, it appears that Mano wants to keep the same formation as he did in the Olympics by playing with three attackers in the form of Neymar, Leandro Damiao and Hulk. Oscar will play behind the attacking three. The only remaining question is whether Sandro and Romulo will partner deeper in midfield, or whether Mano will opt for Paulinho or Arouca as options behind Oscar. Another possibility—and we saw this against Sweden—is to start with Oscar and Ramires behind Neymar and Damiao, and drop Hulk from the starting lineup.

The only thing that makes this squad interesting is the deserved omission of Ganso even though the Santos midfielder received much adulation from the Brazilian press over the last two years. That said, Oscar still needs help in midfield and it’s not clear that the players are there to support him. On a good note, Mano is shoring up Brazil’s defensive back line after the Mexico debacle and the friendly against Argentina where they conceded four goals. Talk of Dede’s inclusion in the Selecao has been in the works for a long time, now, and this is a terrific opportunity for him to build on his substitute performance against Sweden on August 15.

Brazil play South Africa on September 7 at the Morumbi Stadium in Sao Paulo and then face China on September 10 at the Arruda Stadium in Recife. Failure to win even one of these friendlies will mean that the chorus for Mano's dismissal will grow even louder than at present. Today's squad selection is somewhat disappointing given the availability of the likes of Hernanes and Fernandinho, but Mano deserves credit for choosing several Brazil-based players that may be more adaptable to his fluid vision for the team.

Brazil Squad For September Friendlies Against South Africa and China

Goalkeepers: Cássio (Corinthians), Diego Alves (Valencia), Jefferson (Botafogo)
Central Defenders: Dedé (Vasco), Réver (Atlético-MG), Thiago Silva (PSG), David Luiz (Chelsea)
Wide Defenders: Adriano (Barcelona), Alex Sandro (Porto), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Marcelo (Real Madrid)
Midfielders: Arouca (Santos), Lucas Moura (São Paulo), Oscar (Chelsea), Paulinho (Corinthians), Ramires (Chelsea), Rômulo (Spartak Moscow), Sandro Ranieri (Tottenham)
Strikers: Hulk (Porto), Jonas (Valencia), Leandro Damião (Internacional), Neymar (Santos)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mano Menezes, Brazil's Midfield And The Ronaldinho Card

In recent weeks, the soccer blogosphere has been filled with commentary about Brazil’s defeat to Mexico in the Olympic final, and much attention has focused on Mano Menezes, the coach of the Brazilian national team. Many people—World Cup legend Romario included—have called for his dismissal, and rumors have proliferated about other options investigated by the CBF including Pep Guardiola and Luis Felipe Scolari. One school of thought, most famously propounded by Romario, maintains that Mano Menezes erred in selecting Hulk over David Luiz as one of the three overage players. The other school of thought maintains that Mano’s problem was that he failed to start Hulk for the final against Mexico, leaving the right flank exposed and leading to the first Peralta goal. As the celebrated blogger Jack Lang notes, "that Menezes failed to replicate the gung-ho nature of this decision [to include Hulk] in his starting 11 was the greatest frustration of a hugely disappointing afternoon for Brazil."

The reality is, the central question about the state of Brazilian football today does not concern Hulk or the Brazilian back line. Brazil have a phenomenal set of four defenders in the form of Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Dani Alves and Marcelo. The quality of the Brazilian defense was on display in the 3-0 victory against Sweden on August 15. The central question for Brazilian football today concerns the composition of the midfield, and this is the area that Menezes himself singled out in 2010 as the area in which Brazil was having problems. The secondary, related question about the Brazilian national team concerns team leadership and mentorship on the pitch itself, in the heat of the battle.

The issues with the Brazilian midfield are as follows:

• Recent Chelsea signing Oscar is an extraordinary player with vision, skill and creativity. That said, he failed to run the Brazilian midfield in the final against Mexico, and the same could be said of other matches as well. This is not a criticism of Oscar per se. It’s more a function of his style of play, temperament and the slightness of his physical presence.

• Only Ronaldinho can provide Brazil with the direction in midfield and overall leadership and fight that the team needs. Some people—though the number is becoming fewer and fewer—claim that role can be filled by the injury prone Paulo Henrique Ganso. Others will argue Kaka can do the same. The reality is that Ganso has barely played for Brazil in the last two years, and when he has, he has been less than spectacular. Kaka failed to give Brazil the direction it needed in the match against the Netherlands in World Cup 2010 in a high pressure situation. Moreover, Kaka has little experience playing alongside this generation of Brazilian-based players. Ronaldinho may be able to partner with Oscar in an attacking midfield pairing that complements Oscar’s skill and work ethic with Dinho’s singular ability to impose himself on a game.

• Hernanes and Lucas Moura represent other options that Menezes may want to consider alongside Oscar and Ronaldinho. The Lazio playmaker is known for his ability to play in the center of the park in a genuinely ambidextrous vein on either the left or right side of midfield. Paris Saint-Germain bound Lucas Moura could be yet another option for Brazil, making up the fourth wheel in a midfield quartet now composed of Oscar, Ronaldinho, Hernanes and Lucas Moura.

• Philosophically, Menezes shows allegiances to the legendary, attacking Brazilian coach Tele Santana by wanting playmakers deep in midfield as opposed to holding midfielders such as Lucas Leiva known for the bite of their tackle. Brazil 1982, recall, had Falcao and Cerezzo as deeper lying midfielders behind Socrates and Eder. Brazil 2014 can feature Oscar and Ronaldinho in what amounts to two number 10 shirts that would ideally be supplemented by playmaking ability deeper in midfield as well. Romulo and Sandro did well for the Olympic squad, but do not have the skill and experience to break down teams like Spain and Germany at the 2014 World Cup.

• Ronaldinho is back in form as demonstrated by his performances for Atletico Mineiro. In recent weeks, Dinho has chosen to show his stuff on the field and remain mostly silent off it. More importantly, Ronaldinho provides a young Brazilian team with leadership and experience that they will need when the team goes down by a goal or two and faces 10 men behind the ball for extended periods of time.

Mano Menezes should select Ronaldinho for the upcoming friendlies on September 7 and 10 against South Africa and China. He himself has described Dinho as “part of a project." Now is the time to bring Dinho firmly back into the fold and let him lead the Selecao, assuming, of course, that the former 2004 and 2005 FIFA World Player of The Year continues to deliver quality performances and a respectable attitude.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Day Of Sadness For Brazil Fans: Mexico Defeats Brazil 2-1 In The 2012 Olympic Final

Today was a day of sadness for Brazil football fans all over the world. We began by thinking that Brazil might clinch Olympic gold for the first time in its history. Instead, the match unfolded like a horror movie with everything going against plan from the 29th second onwards. It reminded me, and Brazil fans all over the world, of Brazil's tragic loss to France in the 1998 World Cup final. Now, we don’t know what will happen to Mano Menezes, the team at large and its players. Within the space of 90 minutes, the way forward for the Selecao suddenly became dark, unsure and lonely. Most of us respect the innovation that Menezes injected into the team by playing with high lines, ultra-attacking formations and players that are based in Brazil. But while we certainly need victories, we do not want to turn to the counter-attacking football of Carlos Dunga, Muricy Ramalho or Joel Santana.

We want attractive, stylish, attacking football that fields strikers that score goals. We want style and artistry on the pitch and creativity and freedom. To help the Selecao, in the months that follow, this blog will return to the history of the game, and bring back to life its greatest moments from Garrincha and Vava to Pele, Socrates, Zico, Romario, Bebeto, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka. As a community of fans, let us insist that Brazil bring back the beautiful game while at the same time securing victories and trophies as well.

The 2014 World Cup is two years away. As fans, bloggers and journalists, let us fight to help Brazil by resurrecting the history of the game and reminding the world and Brazil itself of its glory as the greatest footballing nation of all time. Together, we will bring back the beautiful game to Brazil and the footballing world. And let us still believe that Brazil can lift the World Cup trophy in 2014.

A defeat is a defeat. We must walk away with our heads held high, because much progress was made during these few weeks at the 2012 London Olympics. At the same, we need to continue to rebuild as a team and allow Brazil to find its glorious, arrogant, attacking, free flowing true nature.

And congratulations to Mexico, which is gradually one becoming of the world's best footballing nations. Mexico will be one of the favorites for World Cup 2014, without any question.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

8 Quick Thoughts On Brazil v. Honduras At The Olympics

In the wake of Brazil’s 3-2 victory against Honduras in the quarterfinals of the Olympics, I have a few quick thoughts:

(1) Brazil has now scored three goals in each of four consecutive Olympics games with scorelines as follows: Brazil 3 – Honduras 2; Brazil 3 – New Zealand 0; Brazil 3 – Belarus 1; Brazil 3 – Egypt 2. With 12 goals scored so far, Brazil has scored almost twice as much as the next highest scoring team, Mexico, which has seven goals to date. Semifinalists Japan and South Korea have scored five and three goals respectively.

(2) Today’s match marked the arrival of Leandro Damiao in a big way. Damiao scored two crucial goals and won the penalty that Neymar converted to make it to 2-2. The Internacional hit man has now scored four goals in the tournament thus far and established himself as the man Brazil will look to in the box. He can play with his back to goal and has great balance and composure in the penalty area.

(3) Brazil are playing very loose at the back, and that’s clearly part of the philosophy without being a specific objective. The theory is, you score three goals, we’ll score four. Mano Menezes isn’t too worried by the goals conceded as long as Neymar and company can find the net on more occasions than those on which goals were conceded.

(4) Neymar can go one on one against virtually any defender, meaning he can dribble his way into the box and either score, assist or draw a penalty. Watch for the rapid acceleration down the left flank as he cuts inside, with the ball pinballing between the right and left foot as he leaves defenders for dead.

(5) Brazil is starting to earn a reputation for being able to come from behind. Historically, Germany is the most famous example of a national team legendary for their ability to win given one or two goal deficits. Under Mano Menezes, Brazil came back against Belarus and Honduras, and has recently done so against Mexico as well.

(6) Honduras played today with pace, passion and style. Honduras deserves a lot of credit for their spirited overall play and Roger Espinoza's goal and performance.

(7) As in the game against Spain, Honduras delivered a highly physical performance. This kind of tactic almost paid off against Brazil, but it ultimately backfired in the form of the two red cards earned by Wilmer Crisanto and Roger Espinoza, respectively.

(8) Brazil now play South Korea in the semifinals at Old Trafford, in a match where they will be challenged by South Korea’s legendary physical fitness and their tactical discipline. Neymar and Oscar will need to step up and take control of the match for Brazil as South Korea will press relentlessly for 90 minutes.

The semifinal matchups are Mexico versus Japan and Brazil versus South Korea. The Asian teams have clearly come a long way in the last ten years and Japan and South Korea should be feared by their Latin counterparts.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Brazil Defeat Honduras 3-2 To Reach Semifinals Of Olympics

Brazil earned a scrappy victory to defeat Honduras 3-2 and reach the semifinals of the Olympics, after going behind twice. The Selecao won thanks to two goals by Leandro Damiao and a Neymar penalty kick that Damiao converted. Honduras, meanwhile, earned a red card in the first half through two yellow cards for Cristiano, and a second red card late in the match for Roger Espinoza, who scored Honduras’s second goal. Overall, Brazil should consider themselves lucky to have reached the semifinal although, admittedly, Honduras played highly physical football that deservingly resulted in two red cards that changed the complexion, tempo and atmosphere of the match.

Honduras: Martinez (12)
Brazil: Damiao (38)
Honduras: Espinoza (48)
Brazil: Neymar (51 | penalty)
Brazil: Damiao (60)