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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.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Brazil Defeats USA 4-1 In Friendly

Brazil defeated the USA 4-1 in a fiercely contested friendly at the FedExField in Landover, MD tonight. The match showcased some clinical finishing by the Brazilians, phenomenal goalkeeping by Brazil's Rafael and an outstanding performance by their left back Marcelo. Brazil coach Mano Menezes fielded the same squad that played in Saturday's friendly against Denmark with the exception of Neymar starting for Lucas Moura and Santos goalkeeper Rafael in lieu of Jefferson. The U.S.'s Jurgen Klinsmann, meanwhile, opted for attackers Landon Donovan and Hercules Gomez in front of midfielders Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu and Jose Torres.

Brazil dominated possession in the first half and maintained constant pressure against the U.S. back line, making it difficult for the Americans to string together passes in midfield and pose any kind of serious attacking threat. The first goal resulted from an Onyewu handball in the box that led to a penalty which Neymar dispatched in the lower right corner in the 12th minute. Fourteen minutes later, Brazil struck again, this time from a corner kick delivered by Neymar to the head of Thiago Silva, the Brazil captain who scored his first international goal. Brazil continued to press the attack and deny the U.S. possession until minutes before half-time. Fabian Johnson stormed into the box and cut a Bradley pass onto the head of Hercules Gomez, who promptly directed the ball into the back of the net to make the score 2-1 going into half-time. Gomez's goal punctuated a lively first half in which he was involved with the few attacking chances available to the USA.

Buoyed by their comeback goal late in the first half, team USA came out onto the field with vigor after the break and began to find space as Brazil appeared to have taken their foot off the gas pedal. But in the 52nd minute, a dangerous Hulk-Neymar-Marcelo attack on the left flank ended up in a Neymar cross to Marcelo, who cut diagonally inside from the flank to score Brazil's third goal. Meanwhile, the U.S. went on to create a bevy of dangerous chances in the second half, none of which they were able to convert.

In the 64th minute, substitute Clint Dempsey almost made it 2-2 but his effort from close range, off a Hercules Gomez header, was cleared off the line by some skillful defending from Brazil midfielder Romulo. Similarly, in the 77th minute, Gomez had a shot saved by Rafael, and the Santos keeper rose to the occasion again to deny Boyd on the rebound. With the score at 3-1, Brazil chose to pressure less and hang back and scrappily defend, allowing the Americans to surge forward. Rafael saved the day again, for Brazil, in the 85th minute from a Bradley header, and minutes later, Onyewu headed a cross onto the bar.

Brazil put the icing on the cake in the 87th minute thanks to a cross from Marcelo that found substitute Alexandre Pato on the edge of the area. Pato chested down Marcelo's looping cross, beat the offside trap and clinically fired home Brazil's fourth goal with his first touch, like a true world class striker. The Americans continued to press, particularly down the right flank, but Brazil held on for a well deserved victory against a spirited USA team playing at home. Team USA played exciting, threatening soccer in the second half but the match was really lost within 60 minutes thanks to clinical Brazilian finishing and superb possession. Nevertheless, the game will be sure to serve as a reality check of sorts to a U.S. team that, coming into today's friendly, claimed a five match unbeaten streak including a 5-1 demolition of Scotland and a 1-0 victory against former World Cup champions Italy.

Goals
Brazil: Neymar (12, pen); Thiago Silva (26), Marcelo (52), Pato (87)
USA: Gomez (45)

Starting Lineups


USA: Howard (GK); Cherundolo, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Johnson; Bradley, Jones, Edu; Torres Donovan, Gomez,

Brazil:
Rafael Cabral (GK); Danilo, Thiago Silva, Juan, Marcelo; Sandro, Rômulo, Oscar; Neymar, Hulk, Leandro Damião

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hulk Inspires Brazil To 3-1 Victory Over Denmark

Brazil cruised to a 3-1 victory over Denmark in today’s international friendly match in Hamburg thanks to two goals by Hulk and a Danish own goal. Mano Menezes fielded his preferred 4-3-3 formation with Thiago Silva and Juan in central defense, accompanied by Marcelo and Danilo in the left and right fullback position, respectively. Brazil opted for two deep playing midfielders in Sandro and Romulo, who were positioned behind attacking midfielders Oscar and Lucas Moura. Leandro Damiao and Hulk formed the Brazilian strike partnership with Hulk on the right in a position similar to that which he plays for Porto. Notably, Mano Menezes started the right footed Lucas Moura on the left flank, as a left winger supplementing the Damiao-Hulk pairing.

Denmark’s Marten Olsen opted for a 4-5-1 formation with Bendtner in attack behind a five man midfield composed of Niki Zimling, Lasse Schone, Christian Eriksen, Christian Poulsen and Michael Krohn-Dehli. The match began with lively end to end football from both teams. Hulk opened the scoring in the 8th minute with a blistering left footed strike from roughly 25 meters that marked his debut goal for the Selecao. Bolstered by confidence from having scored the opening goal, Brazil gradually obtained a grip on possession and began splaying the ball from wing to wing, with both Danilo and Marcelo looking dangerous. Five minutes later, Hulk became involved in Brazil’s second goal. Oscar popped up on the far right flank in the box and passed to Hulk, who became the foil that led Zimling to inadvertently knock the ball into his own net. With less than 15 minutes gone, Brazil were off to a dream, 2-0 start.

Denmark began to find their rhythm at the half hour mark through combination play featuring Eriksen, Krohn-Dehli and Bendtner, but failed to find the back of the net despite a sustained period of possession. Then, in trademark fashion, Brazil struck just when it looked as if their opponent were about to get the upper hand on the flow of the game. Hulk collected the ball from Oscar’s tackle on Danish defender Agger, dribbled behind the Danish defense and maintained his composure in front of goalkeeper Andersen by taking the ball onto his left foot and dispatching it low and to the right past the keeper’s left hand to make it 3-0.

The second half featured more threatening play from the Danes as Brazil became less imaginative when it came to attacks. Denmark, correspondingly, began to control midfield possession. Daniel Agger missed a tap-in, golden opportunity to make it 3-1 in the 48th minute from a Wass pass delivered from the right flank. Olsen replaced Christian Eriksen with Dennis Rommedahl in the 62nd minute in a substitution that increased the danger and frequency of Denmark’s attacks. In the 71st minute, Denmark’s search for a breakthrough goal bore fruit when Zimling streamed down the left flank and found Bendtner in the box, who calmly tapped the ball in from close range to make it 3-1.

With the goal advantage cut from three to two, Brazil became more disciplined and were helped by fresh legs due to a bevy of substitutions such as Rafael, Wellington Nem, Giuliano, Casemiro and Bruno Uvini. Denmark continued to press the attack but Brazil regained some possession thanks to Casemiro and Oscar in midfield, and Wellington Nem playing as a right winger. The score stood at 3-1 as the referee blew his whistle in a match that marked a thrilling result for a young Brazilian team. Brazil fans will take heart from Hulk’s brace and overall impressive play. Moreover, Oscar delivered a stellar performance in the number 10 jersey and was involved in all three goals.

Brazil have now won seven consecutive matches and next face the United States on May 30 in the second of four friendlies before the Olympics. Denmark next play Australia on June 2 before their opening match against Holland on June 9 in Group B of Euro 2012. Denmark have been drawn in the "group of death" for Euro 2012 alongside Holland, Germany and Portugal.

Starting Lineups:

Brazil:

Jefferson (GK), Thiago Silva, Juan, Danilo, Marcelo, Sandro, Romulo, Lucas, Oscar, Leandro Damiao, Hulk

Denmark:

Thomas Sorensen (GK), Simon Kjaer, Daniel Agger, Simon Poulsen, Daniel Wass, Christian Poulsen, Christian Eriksen, Lasse Schone, Niki Zimling, Michael Krohn-Dehli, Nicklas Bendtner

Goals
Brazil: Hulk (8), Zimling (OG), Hulk (40)
Denmark: Bendtner (71)


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ganso To Miss Brazil Friendlies Due To Knee Surgery

Brazil’s star attacking midfielder and playmaker, Paulo Henrique Ganso, will miss the Selecao’s upcoming friendlies against United States (May 30), Mexico (June 3) and Argentina (June 9) due to injury. Ganso will have arthroscopic knee surgery on Friday on his right knee to correct “waste” that lingered from a surgery in 2007. Ganso is expected to be unable to play for roughly 20 days following his surgery, meaning he may still play in the Olympics although his fitness renders him highly unlikely to accompany the team to London in search of the gold medal that Brazil has yet to win.

Ganso’s absence from the Brazilian national team creates a gaping hole in midfield for Mano Menezes. Ganso is known for his ability to read an entire game in ways paralleled only by the aging stars Ronaldinho and Kaka in the modern game. Coach Mano Menezes has been reluctant to include either Ronaldinho or Kaka in the squad for form and fitness reasons. In any case, both Ronaldinho and Kaka fall into the over 23 bracket, and thereby complicate Mano's choice of three, over 23 year old players given the strategic importance of players such as Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Hulk to the Olympic squad. 26 year old Lazio playmaker Hernanes represents another option for Menezes, who was said to be “studying” the possibility of selecting another player to the squad though Hernanes, too, falls into the over 23 bracket.

Another option would be for Mano to let youngsters Oscar (Internacional) and Casemiro (Sao Paulo) and Lucas Moura (Sao Paulo) rule the midfield, though none of these players can claim Ganso’s unique ability to dictate play as well as present a credible attacking and goal scoring threat. Overall, Ganso’s injury represents a huge blow to Menezes, who has built his “renovation” of the Brazilian national football team on Ganso-like creativity in midfield that recalls the genius of the great Brazil team of 1982. Ganso’s style of play evokes memories of the legendary Brazilian midfielder Socrates who captained the Brazil side of 1982 and was similarly known for his playmaking skill and ability to change the tempo of a game.

Brazil have already lost right back Dani Alves due to injury and hence will enter Saturday’s game against Denmark severely depleted of talent given that Neymar and Ganso were previously excused due to club commitments for Santos. Fans should expect Oscar and Lucas Moura to rise to the occasion over the course of the next four friendlies and earn themselves a starting place in the Brazilian line-up for the Olympics and possibly beyond.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Santos Wins Sao Paulo's Paulista Championship For Third Consecutive Year

Santos were crowned champions of Sao Paulo's Campeonato Paulista, also known as the Sao Paulo Paulista Championship, for the third consecutive year after beating Guarani 4-2 in the second leg of the final. Santos beat Guarani 7-2 on aggregate after securing a 3-0 victory in last Sunday’s opening leg. Neymar set up the first goal by splaying out a pass to Elano on the right edge of the penalty box, who subsequently found Kardec lurking on the left. The 20 year old Santos striker also scored from a magnificently taken penalty kick in the 8th minute, and from a right footed shot in the penalty area in the 71st minute. Neymar has now scored a total of 108 goals for Santos. Today's brace adds to the margin by which Neymar has surpassed Joao Paulo and Serginho Chulapa, both of whom scored 104 goals for Santos. As of last Thursday’s match against Bolivar in the Copa Libertadores, Neymar earned the distinction of the most prolific striker for Santos in the post-Pele era by scoring two goals en route to an 8-0 Santos victory.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mano Menezes Omits Ronaldinho In Favor Of Youth For Brazil Friendlies Before Olympics

Brazil coach Mano Menezes announced a list of 23 players for Brazil's upcoming friendlies against Denmark, the United States, Mexico and Argentina. Notably, Menezes omitted Ronaldinho even though the two time FIFA World Player of the Year had been listed in a provisional list of over 50 players for the Olympic squad. Ronaldinho's omission from the Brazil roster for its upcoming friendlies almost certainly means that the Flamengo star is likely to be omitted from the 2012 Olympic squad. Kaka, Robinho, Ramires and Hernanes were also omitted as the Brazil coach opted to focus on youth, particularly in midfield. In case there was any doubt as to the relation between the squad he named today and Brazil's squad for the Olympics, Mano remarked, "It's correct to affirm that these 23 names are the base of the Olympic team. It's unlikely we will make any changes. After making evaluations in the last few months, we think these are the names (for London)."

AC Milan's Alexandre Pato was recalled after a lengthy hiatus from the Brazilian national team, chiefly due to injury problems. Pato joins Neymar, Leandro Damiao and FC Porto's Hulk in an intriguing attacking line-up that is likely to feature three strikers. Expect to pencil Neymar's name into the squad in ink given his spectacular performances for Santos over the last couple of years. Neymar, who generally plays on the left, is likely to be supplemented by Leandro Damiao in the center forward role and Hulk in his traditional position as a right winger.

The options in midfield are such that Mano Menezes has virtually conceded the center of the park to Paulo Henrique Ganso, the Santos playmaker and attacking midfielder who is known for his ability to read games and single-handedly change the tempo of a game. Ganso has an almost telepathic relationship with Neymar and is famous for delivering killer passes to the spiky haired Santos striker. Separately, Ganso combines well with Neymar on dangerous attacking plays in which he takes the goal scoring initiative as an attacking midfielder.

Ganso will be supplemented by Tottenham's defensive midfielder Sandro and Lucas Moura of Sao Paulo, the attacking midfielder with extraordinary pace and dribbling ability. Casemiro and Oscar, FIFA U-20 World Cup champions, bring additional flair to the midfield mix. Oscar scored the hat-trick against Portugal in the final of the U-20 World Cup and has been dubbed the new Kaka because of a similar gait and style of play. The bottom line here is that Brazil's most recent squad is bursting with youth, creativity, vision and attacking power in midfield despite Ronaldinho's absence. Mano explained Ronaldinho's omission by noting:

Supporters need to understand that sometimes they think one man can be the solution to all of Brazilian football's problems and it does not work out like that. Now is the time to look at younger options...If things are not going well, you make a change. But you have to respect Ronaldinho, he is a world champion. He is the type of player who can rebound and surprise everyone.

The back line features the most experienced players in the team in the form of Thiago Silva, Dani Alves, Marcelo and David Luiz, all of whom are over the age of 23. Accounting for goalkeeper Jefferson and Hulk, the Brazil squad currently features six players over the age of 23. That number will need to be trimmed down by half given that the Olympics allows for only three players over the age of 23. Brazil's prototype Olympic squad will play Denmark in Hamburg, Germany on May 26 followed by friendlies against the United States, Mexico and Argentina on May 30, June 3 and June 9 respectively.

Brazil Squad for Friendlies Against Denmark, United States, Mexico and Argentina

Goalkeepers
Jefferson (Botafogo), Neto (Fiorentina), Rafael (Santos)

Defenders and Wingers
Alex Sandro (Porto), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Danilo (Porto), Bruno Uvini (Tottenham), David Luiz (Chelsea), Thiago Silva (AC Milan), Juan (Inter Milan)

Midfielders
Casemiro (Sao Paulo), Romulo (Vasco da Gama), Sandro (Tottenham), Ganso (Santos), Lucas (Sao Paulo), Oscar (Internacional), Giuliano (Dnipro-UCR)

Attackers
Neymar (Santos), Leandro Damiao (Internacional), Alexandre Pato (AC Milan), Wellington Nem (Fluminense), Hulk (Porto)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Neymar and Ganso Fire Santos To 3-0 Victory Over Guarani In Campeonato Paulista Final, First Leg

Santos defeated Guarani 3-0 in the first leg of the final of the Campeonato Paulista, Sao Paulo’s professional soccer league. Playing away, Santos went ahead in the 42nd minute thanks to a spectacular left-footed strike by Paulo Henrique Ganso. The ever dangerous Neymar set up Ganso’s goal by cutting the ball back after bursting down the left flank. Ganso sent a rocket into the top left corner of the net from just outside the penalty box. Neymar made the score 2-0 in the 65th minute by coolly finishing off an attacking play involving Ganso in the box. The Guarani keeper did well to force the ball away from Ganso, but was unable to stop Neymar’s shrewd placement of his shot in the lower right corner of the net. Finally, in the dying minutes of injury time, Neymar collected a cross delivered from the right flank, in the box, beat his defender and unleashed a thunderous shot to create a bulge in the roof of the net for his second goal of the evening. The spiky haired Santos sensation celebrated his second goal by collapsing on the field in a gesture of exhaustion after a heroic performance in the crucial first leg of the Paulista championship final.

Santos have now all but secured the Paulista championship for the third consecutive year. The second leg of the final will be played at Santos on May 13. Neymar and Ganso will then likely be called up for international duty in Brazil's friendly against Denmark in Hamburg, Germany on May 26. Santos's recent run of form has revealed Ganso's ability to function not just as a playmaker, but also as an attacking midfielder with the courage and ability to score from long range in ways that recall the genius of Rivaldo.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Hulk Scores Spectacular Goal Against Sporting Lisbon

Hulk scored a brace against Sporting Lisbon in Porto’s last home game of the season, today. The Brazilian striker sent the Sporting keeper the wrong way from the penalty spot in the 82nd minute and then scored a spectacular goal in the 87th minute to punctuate yet another successful season in Portugal. As the game approached its final minutes, Hulk picked up the ball near center circle and then displayed his trademark explosive pace by bursting down the field, rounding the keeper and tucking the ball in to give Porto an insurmountable lead. Prior to today's match, the entire FC Porto squad collected their Primeira Liga medal before the match and celebrated their accomplishment by dyeing their hair in Porto’s blue and white colors.

Hulk’s composure at the penalty spot and his explosive power and pace make him an attractive candidate for the number 11 jersey in the Brazilian national team. Hulk can now claim three Portuguese Championship titles (2008-2009, 2010-2011, 2011-2012) although the rumor mill suggests he may well be on his way to the English Premier League next season. The burly Brazilian’s strength and shooting accuracy is sorely needed by the Selecao at a time when Neymar and Leandro Damiao represent the other options in a skilled but inexperienced Brazilian attack.