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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, November 20, 2013

Brazil Scrape By Chile 2-1 To Notch Up Sixth Consecutive Victory

Brazil edged to a 2-1 victory over Chile in a closely contested friendly in Tuesday’s friendly in Toronto. Hulk scored the first goal for Brazil with a low, left footed strike from an Oscar pass in the 13th minute, at a moment in the game when Brazil looked destined to steamroll their opponents. Chile, however, weathered the initial storm from Brazil and gained more possession throughout the match, despite obtaining little in the way of high percentage shots on goal. Chile equalized in the 70th minute thanks to a Vargas strike and some sloppy defending from David Luiz, but Brazil managed to find the winning goal nine minutes later when Neymar drifted from the left into the center and fed the ball to Maicon on the right flank, who subsequently crossed to Robinho. Robinho delightfully headed in Maicon’s cross to score his first goal for the national team since 2011.

Neymar delivered a sub-par showing overall despite some bright moments, as did his Barcelona teammate, Chile’s Alexis Sanchez. Hulk, on the other hand, once again illustrated his usefulness to the team as an attacker with another powerful left footed shot that hit the woodwork, just inches from goal. Today’s win over Chile means Brazil have now secured six consecutive victories as Scolari wraps up his preparations for the 2014 World Cup, having already brazenly declared that Brazil will be 2014 World Cup champions after the team’s 5-0 victory against Honduras on Saturday. Brazil have now scored 20 goals in their last six matches, while conceding only two. For Chile, on the other hand, today's defeat at the hands of their South American brethren means the end of an unbeaten run dating back to March of this year.

Chile demonstrated their attacking mentality and technical quality throughout the match, but were generally unable to get behind the Brazilian defense given the persistence of Brazil’s defensive midfielders Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho. Chile did, however, demonstrate that Brazil are susceptible to lapses of concentration that, in combination with missed chances and poor finishing, render them vulnerable to defeat thanks to a single defensive error. Players from both teams exhibited fatigue as the game edged to a close and thereby raised the question of whether today’s generation of players will be at peak fitness as the World Cup approaches, particularly given the physical demands imposed on them by their league fixtures. Overall, however, today’s match delivered a great result for Brazil but a mediocre performance from both teams, who will need to consider how to ensure their players stay rested and injury free as they continue to slot in national friendlies alongside their club commitments during the final phase of preparation for World Cup 2014.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Brazil Pummels Honduras 5-0 As Scolari's Bench Players Underscore Selecao's Depth Of Talent

Brazil delivered an impressive display of goal scoring power against Honduras with a 5-0 victory in Saturday’s friendly in Miami that underscored the depth of talent amongst their bench players, most of whom were responsible for today’s goals. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s starting lineup featured Maicon, David Luiz, Dante and Maxwell in defense, Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho in midfield, and the attacking quartet of Oscar, Bernard, Neymar and Jo. Meanwhile, Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suarez fielded the feared strike partnership of Carlos Costly and Jerry Bengston in front of the likes of Arnold Peralta, Roger Espinoza and Wilson Palacios. Brazil were missing Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Marcelo and centerforward Fred due to injury. Meanwhile, Scolari opted to start Bernard over Hulk as the attacking option on the left wing, with Neymar in a deeper, more central position behind Jo.

Honduras got off to a sprightly start by stopping Brazil from developing any kind of attacking rhythm through a combination of disciplined defending and physical play. Neymar, in particular, received the lion’s share of tough tackles and challenges throughout the match, but managed to leave the game unscathed. The game’s momentum turned Brazil’s way when Paulinho found space to race down the left flank and cross to Bernard, in a center forward position, who rifled a shot high into the net to give Brazil a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute. Bernard's goal allowed Brazil to settle into their familiar passing game and subsequently dominate possession for the remainder of the half, although the Honduras team’s physical handling of Neymar continued to make things challenging for the Brazilians.

The second half, however, was a different story entirely. Neymar picked out Dante from a corner kick in the 55th minute such that the Bayern Munich defender headed in his second goal for the Selecao to give Brazil a crucial 2-0 lead. Dante’s goal energized the Brazilians and paved the way for Brazil substitutes Willian, Robinho, Ramires and Hulk to change the pace of the game for Brazil in the second half. Willian and Robinho caused problems for Honduras in central defense while Hulk and Ramires imposed themselves on the left and right flank, respectively. Ramires set up Brazil’s third goal with a cross to Robinho, who headed the ball down for a Paulinho shot that took a deflection and fell into the path of Maicon, who made no mistake in putting the ball into the back of the net in the 66th minute.

In the 70th minute, Hulk raced down the left flank and then crossed to Willian, to make it 4-0. Four minutes later, the Zenit striker then scored Brazil’s fifth goal of the evening with a powerfully struck shot with his left foot after receiving the ball courtesy of a Ramires back heel pass followed by a Robinho back heel assist. Scolari, meanwhile, brought out even more substitutes in the form of Lucas Leiva and Marquinhos to build out his team's bench experience further with this generation of players in the national team. Honduras was left chasing the ball as Brazil controlled possession and attacked in the last 20 minutes with dazzling pace, dribbling ability and sheer muscular strength and persistence in winning the back the ball.

Overall, this was a hugely disappointing night for Honduras, and a sparkling display by Brazil, who managed to score five goals after some choppy play in the initial 20 minutes. Scolari will be delighted by yet another winning performance without his first choice fullbacks, Dani Alves and Marcelo, as well as the inspired play of Dante, Bernard, Willian and Hulk. Today, Hulk found the back of the net for Brazil for the first time in 2013 and he celebrated by delivering a captain's salute that recalled Cristiano Ronaldo's post-goal salute in response to criticism from FIFA President Sepp Blatter. Scolari’s problem now will be whittling down the roster to a 22 man squad as competition for a place in the Brazil starting 22, let alone 11, multiplies intensely. Brazil now face a sterner test against Chile on November 19 in Toronto but are nevertheless starting to look like five time World Champions, once again, for the first time in a long time. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Brazil Scrape By Zambia, Leaving Scolari To Mull Over Options In Attack

Brazil defeated Zambia 2-0 to secure their fourth consecutive victory although the match illustrated that coach Luiz Felipe Scolari still has significant work to do before the World Cup in order to build a championship winning team. In the second half, substitute Oscar opened the scoring for Brazil with a sublime curling strike, and Dede followed-up minutes later by heading in a Neymar corner. Scolari had started with the attacking trio of Neymar, Pato and Lucas Moura behind Ramires, but Pato, Moura and Ramires failed to impress such that Brazil resorted to the familiar formation of Oscar, Neymar, Jo, Hulk in the second half. Bench players Maxwell and Dede impressed in defense, with Maxwell, in particular, making a convincing a case as the first choice backup to Real Madrid's Marcelo. Up front, however, the first half failure of Ramires, Pato and Lucas Mouras to pose any kind of credible, sustained attacking threat means that Scolari still has thinking to do as he considers backup alternatives to Oscar, Hulk and centre-forwards Jo and Fred. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Brazil Defeat South Korea 2-0 Thanks To Goals By Neymar and Oscar

Brazil marched to a decisive 2-0 victory against South Korea on Saturday thanks to goals by Neymar and Oscar. Confronted with a pacy, skilled South Korean side playing at home in Seoul, Brazil struggled to break down the South Korean defense in the opening stages despite owning the lion’s share of possession. Luiz Felipe Scolari fielded his trademark 4-3-3 formation marked by David Luiz and Dante in central defense, and first choice fullbacks Dani Alves and Marcelo on the right and left wing, respectively. Dante started alongside Luiz given the recent injury to captain Thiago Silva. With the exception of goalkeeper Jefferson, the rest of the Brazil squad remained the same as the one used for the recent friendly against Portugal with Neymar, Jo and Hulk leading the attack in front of Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho and Oscar. Scolari substituted Ramires for Hulk in the second half as the Zenit striker lacked a quality first touch on the ball and failed to find his rhythm.

Brazil attacked effectively in the first half with Marcelo and Dani Alves roaming up and down the flanks in ways that recalled the brilliance of Roberto Carlos and Cafu, from another generation. Neymar challenged the Korean keeper with a long range, free kick on target in the 10th minute and Hulk had a golden opportunity in the 14th minute when a pass from Jo left him with the onrushing keeper to beat, although he failed to flick the ball over Jung Sung-Ryong as required. Korea’s most promising opportunity came in the 27th minute and immediately thereafter, when Lee Chung Young whipped in a promising cross that David Luiz expertly cleared before either Jefferson or Ja Cheol arrived at the ball. South Korea subsequently won two additional corners that Luiz and Marcelo succeeded in clearing, leaving the match scoreless going into the last 15 minutes of the first half.

After receiving some rough treatment on the left flank from the Korean defense in the form of multiple harsh challenges, Neymar continued to lead Brazil’s search for the go ahead goal by dropping deep into midfield and orchestrating attacks that flowed through both sides of the field. The Barcelona starlet was ultimately rewarded in the 44th minute when a streaming run on goal resulted in a free kick that he deftly curled just inches inside of the near post to make it 1-0 Brazil. Neymar's spectacular free kick goal illustrated how Brazil needed a dead ball situation to break down a disciplined, speedy Korean team that had done well to neutralize the attacking threat posed by the overlapping fullbacks.

The second half continued in much the same vein, with Brazil attacking in waves and Korea responding on the counterattack, until a moment of magic from Oscar made it a two goal game. A visionary pass from Paulinho sliced open the center of the Korean defense, enabling Oscar to navigate around the keeper and score with a powerfully struck left footed shot. Up two goals, Scolari brought on Hernanes and Lucas Leiva for Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho, giving Leiva his first Selecao appearance since 2011 under Mano Menezes. Brazil later substituted Maxwell for Marcelo in an apparent attempt by Scolari to give his bench players valuable experience at the international level.

Korea delivered an admirable performance all around and displayed their legendary physical fitness and persistence until the dying minutes. Lucas Leiva and Hernanes found themselves preoccupied with defensive duties until the close of the match, as did Maxwell, who assumed more of a defensive role than his counterpart Marcelo. Once again, however, it was Neymar who stole the show for Brazil alongside a heroic performance by David Luiz in the captain’s armband. Luiz took command of the Brazil defense in the absence of Thiago Silva and cleared the ball on many an occasion in which the Korean attack opted for the aerial route into the box. Oscar, meanwhile, delivered one of his most impressive, recent performances in the Brazil shirt such that fans will be looking for the Neymar-Oscar chemistry to develop further as Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup continue. Neymar has now scored a whopping 27 goals in 43 appearances for Brazil. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Neymar Scores Sensational Solo Goal As Brazil Defeat Portugal 3-1 In Boston

Brazil came from a goal behind to defeat Portugal 3-1 at the Gillette Stadium in Boston on Tuesday evening. The match began at an electric pace marked by end to end football and highly physical challenges that resulted in Brazil’s Neymar, in particular, finding himself on the receiving end of a series of tough tackles and an elbow to the face. Even though Portugal were missing Cristiano Ronaldo due to injury, they delivered an impressive first half in which they pressured Brazil and took advantage of Maxwell’s lack of international experience on Brazil’s left flank by whipping in dangerous crosses from the right side of the field.

Portugal’s persistence and positive attitude paid off in the 18th minute when Raul Meireles slotted the ball into the back of the net after a failed Maicon clearance, giving Paulo Bento’s team a 1-0 lead over the five time World Champions. Roughly five minutes later, Brazil captain Thiago Silva earned his second ever international goal after heading in the ball from a Neymar corner to even things up and sway the momentum of the match Brazil’s way for the first time since the opening whistle.

Posterboy Neymar scored a sensational solo goal in the 34th minute by picking up the ball outside of the box and running at the heart of the Portuguese defense despite being surrounded by five players. The Brazil number 10 maintained his balance within a flock of red Portuguese shirts and coolly dispatched the ball past the keeper’s right hand to make it 2-1 Brazil. Portugal managed to maintain their composure despite having conceded two goals in 10 minutes and continued to press the attack for the remainder of the first half with furious intensity.

Four minutes into the second half, Neymar fed Maxwell a pass on the left flank which the Paris-Saint Germain defender crossed to Jo, who tumbled the ball into the back of the net to Jo to make it 3-1 Brazil. Leading by two goals, Brazil reduced the intensity of their attack and brought on a bevy of substitutes including Oscar, Hernanes, Henrique, Lucas Moura and Alexandre Pato. Much of the remainder of the match became an exercise in Brazil defending against a determined and skillful Portugal team. Absent Ronaldo, Nani tried his hand at a number of free kick opportunities but invariably scuppered the ball over the crossbar. In the 78th minute, Nani missed another golden opportunity when Vierinha's cross was intercepted by a horizontal leap from Thiago Silva, whose header clearance ensured the scoreline stayed at 3-1.

Once again, Neymar stole the show for Brazil by assisting with one goal, scoring from a sensational solo effort and then proving instrumental in setting up Brazil’s third goal. Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will be pleased that his team walked away from the match with a decisive result and impressive performance despite the absence of his favored fullbacks, Dani Alves and Marcelo. Jo continues his resurrection of form but the most memorable moment of the game will surely be Neymar’s brilliant solo goal that recalled the pace and composure of Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Neymar and Jo Lead Brazil To 6-0 Victory Against Australia

Brazil cruised to a 6-0 victory over Australia in today’s friendly in Brasilia in an impressive display of goalscoring skill, aerial prowess, midfield creativity and defensive hussle. Brazil’s victory was all the more remarkable given the absence of Fred, Hulk, Oscar and Dani Alves due to injury, although replacements Jo, Bernard, Ramires and Maicon delivered stellar performances in their absence. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari fielded his standard 4-3-3 formation with Ramires playing the role of Oscar as the attacking midfielder behind the attacking triumvirate of Neymar, Jo and Bernard. The match marked the first game played by the Selecao in Brazil since their 3-0 victory against Spain in the final of the Confederations Cup, and the hosts were eager to please their fans on independence day at Brasilia’s Mané Garrincha Stadium. Brazil dominated the proceedings throughout the entire game by winning the ball in midfield, maintaining possession and pressuring their opponents to the point where they could barely escape their own half. Scolari’s team romped to victory on the back of six goals as follows:

In the 8th minute, Neymar found the space to float a cross to Bernard, who volleyed a shot that ricocheted off the post and fell to Jo, who tapped in the rebound.

In the 34th minute, Maicon slipped a pass to Bernard on the right flank, and the Shaktar Donetsk midfielder fired a cross that Jo dispatched by way of a two footed leap that displayed the poise of a centreforward in the hottest of form.

In the 36th minute, a visionary pass from Ramires cut open the Australian defense and gave Neymar the opportunity to flick the ball past the keeper’s left hand to make it 3-0.

In the 57th minute, substitute Maxwell found the head of Ramires, and the Chelsea man rewarded Scolari’s decision to recall him to the Selecao with a goal from a powerful, leaping header.

In the 74th minute, Hernanes lobbed a pass over the Australian defense that Neymar crossed into the path of substitute Alexandre Pato, who deftly flicked the ball into the corner of the net to make it 5-0.

In the 84th minute, the Australian defense allowed Luiz Gustavo way too much space on the ball and the VfL Wolfsburg midfielder sent a rocket of a shot into the top right corner of the net to make it 6-0 for his first ever international goal.

Today’s victory illustrated the following key points regarding the Selecao’s evolution:
  • Bernard may be the logical replacement for Hulk on the right flank, particularly if the latter continues to fail to find the back of the net. Bernard pressured the Australia defense with a sustained display of skill, speed and creativity. The Shaktar Donetsk winger lacks the physical presence of Hulk, but is clearly a viable alternative given his pace, dribbling ability and vision.
  • Ramires proved that he represents another midfield option for Scolari with his assist for Neymar, goal and inspired overall play. Today, Ramires took over the role played by Oscar in a stunning illustration of Brazil’s depth. Expect the competition for one of three spots in Scolari’s midfield to intensify as the likes of Tottenham’s Sandro and Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva regain their form as well.
  • Alexandre Pato’s goal and Jo’s performance allay fears that Brazil is excessively dependent on Fred’s predatory instincts to supply them with goals. Pato’s recovery of his fitness at Corinthians represents a boon for world football at large, and the 24 year old striker may well find his return to form synergistically boosted by international duty.
Overall, today’s game represented a phenomenal result for the Selecao. Neymar, in particular, delivered an impressive display in the number 10 shirt for Brazil by his illustrating his strengths as a team player in addition to a scorer of goals. Brazil next face a sterner test on Tuesday in their friendly against Portugal, the team that Luiz Felipe Scolari led to the European championship finals in 2004.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Alexandre Pato And Marcos Rocha Recalled For Brazil Friendlies; Kaka Returns To AC Milan

Corinthians striker Alexandre Pato and Atletico Mineiro right fullback Marcos Rocha have been recalled to the Brazilian national team to replace the injured Fred and Dani Alves, respectively, for upcoming friendlies against Australia and Portugal. Former AC Milan striker Pato has expressed delight at the call-up, noting that the chance to serve the national team was exactly what he was seeking by returning to Brazil. Pato recently scored two goals in a 4-0 victory by Corinthians over Flamengo. Pato’s first goal came from a poaching tap in from a Romarinho pass, while the second goal was scored from an almost impossible angle from the right flank after having beaten the Flamengo keeper.

Marcos Rocha, meanwhile, has been capped only once for Brazil but remained on the bench having been omitted from the team that played against Argentina in a superclassico match in 2012. Brazil’s second choice for the right fullback position remains up for grabs although AS Roma’s Maicon is likely to start against Australia over Rocha. Rocha’s selection suggests that a berth in the Brazil squad for the 2014 World Cup may be beyond the sights of Manchester United’s Rafael de Silva as a result of his poor performance in the 2011 Olympic final.

Meanwhile, Kaka prepares to resurrect his career by returning to AC Milan, the club where he won the Scudetto, a Champions League title and the Balloon d’Or. Kaka has signed a two year contract for AC Milan and hopes to reinvent himself at the Rossoneri by playing behind Mario Balotelli and using his experience and positional awareness to compensate for a slight diminishment in his explosive pace. Italy, recall, is the place where Brazil’s Ronaldo recovered his form after years of injury and heartache, before taking the World Cup by storm in 2002 by scoring eight goals throughout the tournament including two in the final. We should expect Kaka to work his heart out at the San Siro in the hopes of a World Cup recall and emphatic return to form that parallels that of the great Ronaldo.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Brazil's Luiz Felipe Scolari Recalls Maicon and Ramires For Portugal And Australia Friendlies

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari named a strong squad for upcoming friendlies against Australia and Portugal in what amounts to the clearest possible indication that “Big Phil” is closing in on his final roster for the 2014 World Cup. Scolari recalled Ramires and Maicon to the squad for the first time since taking charge of the Brazilian national team in late 2012 despite controversy over Ramires’s wife’s remarks that the Brazilian national team operated like a “mafia”. Brazil play Australia in Brasilia on September 7 and Portugal in Boston on September 10.

Scolari elaborated on his selection of Ramires and Maicon for the Australia and Portgual friendlies as follows:
We have solved the problems we had with Ramires and he deserves to be with us. I have been watching him recently and he has been doing very well. Maicon has always been great for Brazil. He is at Roma now and I want to watch him in these two matches. I’m happy to give him the chance – he is another player who deserves it.
Ramires will be part of Scolari’s mouthwatering six options in the center of the park alongside Fernando, Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho, Hernanes and Oscar. Maicon, meanwhile, is Scolari’s backup for Dani Alves and is favored over Manchester United’s Rafael because of his World Cup experience and strong performances for Brazil, more generally. Maicon scored Brazil’s opening goal at the 2010 World Cup with a right footed shot from near the corner kick spot against North Korea. Under Dunga, Maicon was Brazil’s favored right back but his form has suffered of late because he struggled to gain playing time with Manchester City in the 2012-2013 season. The other surprise inclusion is centre-back Henrique, the 6+ foot tall defender who plays for Palmeiras. Paris Saint-Germain left back Maxwell gets another call up as well.

Key points from today’s squad selection are as follows:

•The squad features most of the 2013 Confederations Cup squad in a sign that “Big Phil” is now putting the finishing touches on a squad where the core base of players has largely been selected.

•Scolari is focusing on cementing his back-line with reserves to complement his favored choice of Dani Alves, David Luiz, Thiago Silva and Marcelo. At the Confederations Cup, he had selected Rever alongside Dante as alternative central defenders. Dante started for Brazil in the recent friendly against Switzerland. Expect Dante, in particular, to get more playing time and international experience as the World Cup draws closer.

•Brazil’s midfield is bursting with pace, tough tackling, dribbling ability, vision and creativity. As Oscar steps into the role previously played by Kaka, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo as Brazil’s visionary playmaker and attacking midfielder, expect Scolari to make some tough choices about which two midfielders play behind him in Brazil's 4-3-3 formation.

•Scolari chose Bernard and Jo, here, as backups to Oscar and Fred respectively. We should expect Neymar, Fred and Hulk to lead the attack but should also get ready to see some matches where Neymar does not start in order to plan for the unforeseen scenario where the Barcelona youngster suffers from illness or injury.

•Brazil continue to avoid selecting Ronaldinho and Kaka in what appears to be confirmation that the sun may have set on their international careers.

Brazil will be eager to avenge their recent shock 1-0 loss to Switzerland. Meanwhile, Scolari will be eagerly preparing to face Portugal, the team that he coached and the led to the European Championship final in 2004.

Brazil Squad For September 2013 Friendlies Against Australia And Portugal

Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (QPR), Jefferson (Botafogo)

Defenders: Dani Alves (Barcelona), Maicon (Roma), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Maxwell (Paris Saint-Germain), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich), Henrique (Palmeiras)

Midfielders: Fernando (Shakhtar Donetsk), Hernanes (Lazio), Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Paulinho (Tottenham), Ramires (Chelsea), Oscar (Chelsea), Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk)

Strikers: Neymar (Barcelona), Lucas Moura (Paris Saint-Germain), Hulk (Zenit), Fred (Fluminense), Jo (Atletico Mineiro)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Brazil Squad For Switzerland Friendly on August 14

Brazil’s 20 man squad for the August 14 friendly against Switzerland features everyone included in the 23 man Confederations Cup squad with the exception of Rever, Filipe Luis, Jadson and goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari and technical director Carlos Alberto Parreira have been characteristically tight lipped about their tactics and plans for the upcoming game. Scolari is likely to field Paris Saint-Germain’s Maxwell on the left flank in the event that Brazil garner a comfortable lead as he explores backups to the first choice fullbacks Dani Alves and Marcelo. Otherwise, we should expect exactly the same squad that started in the Confederations Cup final against Spain given that Scolari’s vision is based on building understanding and camaraderie amongst a small group of players in contrast to the revolving door philosophy of his predecessor, Mano Menezes. This squad does not feature a realistic backup for Dani Alves although we should expect Scolari to recall Maicon and Manchester United's Rafael for that spot in upcoming friendlies.

Brazil Squad Against Switzerland

Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Queens Park Rangers), Jefferson (Botafogo).

Defenders: Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Jean (Fluminense), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Maxwell (Paris Saint-Germain).

Midfielders: Fernando (Shakhtar Donetsk), Hernanes (Lazio), Luiz Gustavo (Bayern Munich), Paulinho (Tottenham), Oscar (Chelsea), Lucas Moura (Paris Saint Germain)

Strikers: Hulk (Zenit), Bernard (Atletico Mineiro), Fred (Fluminense), Neymar (Barcelona), Jo (Atletico Mineiro)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Brazil Thrash Spain 3-0 In Confederations Cup Final Through Goals From Neymar And Fred

Brazil defeated reigning World Champions Spain 3-0 to secure their third consecutive Confederations Cup title and restore their reputation as one of the best footballing nations in the world at the Maracana Stadium on Sunday. Brazil’s victory ended Spain's unbeaten streak of 29 competitive matches, and heralded the emergence of a new generation of Brazilian players that will attempt to hoist the World Cup trophy on Brazilian soil in 2014. Brazil's defeat of Spain, on June 30, coincided with the same date eleven years ago, when coach Luiz Felipe Scolari led Brazil to victory in the 2002 World Cup final. Sunday’s win means Brazil have now secured consecutive victories against France, Japan, Mexico, Italy, Uruguay and Spain, thereby beating four World Cup Champions (France, Italy, Uruguay, Spain) in the last month.

The match got off to an electric start when Hulk’s cross from the right flank fell to Fred, who had fallen in the box but nevertheless managed to dispatch the ball into the roof the net to make it 2-0 in the 2nd minute. The crowd in the Maracana stadium exploded with delight upon Fred’s goal, and subsequently cheered every time Brazil touched the ball, while conversely booing Spain whenever they had possession. Spain appeared shocked by Fred’s goal and almost went down 2-0 within 10 minutes when Oscar squandered by a golden opportunity by shooting the ball just wide of the net after receiving a flick from Fred. The opening minutes witnessed highly heated play from both teams, with players from both sides making aggressive tackles that ended up seeing Arbeola and Sergio Ramos receive yellow cards within the first 30 minutes.

Brazil’s defensive midfielders Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo proved critical to disrupting any attempt by Spain to settle into their tiki-taka passing rhythm. The entire Brazil team, however, applied pressure to Spain anytime they obtained possession as Hulk, Oscar, Marcelo and Dani Alves chased down every ball and thwarted attempts by Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets to build up through midfield using La Roja’s trademark possession game. Ruffled, Spain began resorting to long range shots or high crosses delivered from the flanks as they found themselves unable to penetrate down the center. Spain’s best chance of the evening came in the 40th minute, when Pedro picked up a pass from Juan Mata and unleashed a shot that was heading straight into goal had it not been for a miraculous last minute clearance by David Luiz, who skied the ball over the bar with his right foot. Minutes later, however, Brazil challenged the Spain goal when Oscar began a dangerous attack with Neymar and Fred, and ultimately passed to Neymar from the center of box. The Brazil number 10 sent a rocket of a shot into the roof of the net to make it 2-0 Brazil on the edge of halftime.

Things only got worse for Spain minutes into the second half, as Marcelo cut inside and found Hulk in an attacking midfield position. Hulk laid off the ball to Fred after Neymar dummied receipt of the pass, allowing Fred to calmly dispatch the ball into the corner of the net to make it 3-0 after 47 minutes. Spain almost pulled a goal back when substitute Jesus Navas drew a penalty for a foul by Marcelo, but Sergio Ramos curled the ball wide of goal to leave the scoreline at 3-0. Spain continued to press while Brazil, conversely, continued to apply pressure on every Spanish attempt at possession and began attacking on the counterattack given their three goal lead. The complexion of the match unalterably changed, however, when Pique received a red card for fouling Neymar on a dangerous counterattacking opportunity for Brazil. Down to ten men, Spain showed the mettle of champions by threatening Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar on a couple of occasions, while failing to score, nevertheless.

Overall, Brazil demonstrated convincingly that Spain are not only beatable, but are intensely vulnerable to a strategy based on sustained pressure in midfield that disrupts their passing game. Meanwhile, off the pitch, the debate in the Brazil about the value of the World Cup and the government’s social and economic policies is likely to continue. More than 11,000 police and troops were deployed to guarantee security for the players and 78,000 fans who packed the Maracana stadium. For Brazil football fans, however, it was a night full of joy and celebration as Luiz Felipe Scolari and team showed that the sun may finally have set on the Spanish footballing throne and that, in its place, a new generation of Brazilian footballers led by Neymar, Oscar and Paulinho is ready to pick up the mantle as preparations for World Cup 2014 continue in earnest. Brazil now have a year to tweak their team and strategy ahead of the 2014 World Cup and should expect their FIFA ranking to skyrocket from its current, highly disingenuous ranking of 22.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Paulinho's Header Sends Brazil To Confederations Cup Final With 2-1 Victory Over Uruguay

Brazil clinched a 2-1 victory over Uruguay today to advance to the finals to the Confederations Cup and defend their Confederations Cup title at the Maracana Stadium on Sunday. Brazil will be aiming for a third consecutive Confederations Cup championship at the Maracana stadium and stand to face the winner of Italy and Spain from the other semifinal. Brazil played their standard 4-2-1-3 formation with Neymar and Hulk in wide positions positioned between Fred, the lone centerforward. Uruguay, meanwhile, opted for a 4-3-3 with the dangerous triumvirate of Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani spearheading the attack. Corinthians midfielder Paulinho returned to the Brazil squad after recovering from a mild ankle injury to replace Lazio’s Hernanes, who had started against Italy.

The match got off to a scrappy start as both teams struggled to develop any appreciable fluidity and momentum. Things appeared to liven up in the 14th minute, however, when Chelsea’s David Luiz fouled Diego Lugano in the box and conceded a penalty. Diego Forlan stepped up to the penalty spot but had his kick spectacularly saved by Julio Cesar, who dived to his left to read Forlan’s low drive perfectly. The penalty failed to change the tempo and rhythm of the match, however, as Uruguay applied pressure to Brazil in midfield, forcing the Selecao to attack down the flanks and play the occasional long ball to allow Neymar, Fred and Hulk to get behind the Uruguayan fullbacks. And then, a moment of magic from Neymar ruptured the deadlock in the 40th minute. Neymar chested down a pass from Paulinho, and had his flick of a shot deflected by Uruguayan goalkeeper Muslera. The ball subsequently bounced to Fred who poached the ball into the back of the net to give Brazil a 1-0 lead.

Uruguay responded to Fred’s goal minutes into the second half by playing the ball, through midfield, into the box with the ball eventually falling to Edinson Cavani after a maze of Brazilian defenders failed to clear the ball. Cavani calmly dispatched the ball past Julio Cesar’s right hand to make it 1-1 after 47 minutes. Cavani’s goal energized Brazil, with Neymar, for example, trekking back deeper on the left flank and into central positions in order to obtain an extra yard of space. In the 55th minute, Hulk challenged Muslera with an on target free kick that the Uruguayan keeper punched out for a corner kick. Uruguay, however, held firm by playing deep and bursting forth on the counterattack.

Scolari substituted Bernard for Hulk in the 63rd minute in a move that enlivened the Brazilian attack as Bernard, Oscar and Neymar delivered crisp, triangular combination play that allowed Brazil to penetrate the Uruguayan box on more than one occasion. Brazil dominated possession but found themselves resorting to a longer range shots as Uruguay packed the center of the box with ten men behind the ball. The match appeared to be heading for extra time until the 86th minute, when Paulinho rose to head in a Neymar corner to give Brazil a crucial 2-1 lead with roughly 7 minutes remaining.

This was a crucial victory for Brazil as it propels them to the Confederations Cup final and gives the team the luxury of another competitive game against world class opposition in a major tournament. The match showcased Brazil’s ability to play against skillful opposition who opted for a highly defensive game plan. Once again, Neymar was involved in both goals as he continues to show that the team revolves around him, even though today’s goals came from Fred and Paulinho. Brazil's victory against Uruguay allows soccer fans to dream of the mouthwatering prospect of a Brazil vs. Spain final, in Brazil at the famed Maracana Stadium on Sunday. Before that matchup, however, Spain have to surmount Italy, who will be without Mario Balotelli due to injury, although Andrea Pirlo and Daniele de Rossi are likely to be back in the Italy starting lineup.

Despite today's victory, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari clearly still has some tweaking to do with the team's performance and positioning, but the reality is that the Brazilian machine is finally starting to click after years of inconsistency and lack of direction. Today, they beat Uruguay on home soil to exorcise the ghost of their famous loss to the same nation in the 1950 World Cup final. On Sunday, the world will know if they have truly exorcised the ghost of 1950 by winning in the Maracana Stadium in the final of a major tournament, given that the Maracana stadium was the site of their historic loss in 1950.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Neymar and Fred Lead Brazil To 4-2 Victory Over Italy In Confederations Cup

Brazil defeated Italy 4-2 yesterday to take top place in Group A of the Confederations Cup and advance to face Uruguay or Nigeria in the semifinals on Wednesday. With this victory, Brazil retained the distinction of remaining unbeaten against Italy for 31 years, since their epic World Cup encounter in 1982. Italy were without star midfielder Andrea Pirlo due to a thigh injury as well as Daniele De Rossi, who was suspended after having picked up two yellow cards in preceding group matches against Japan and Mexico. Brazil fielded their standard starting lineup with the exception of Lazio’s Hernanes, who started in place of Paulinho in midfield.

Brazil dominated possession for much of the first half, including a flurry of chances in the opening minutes via Neymar and Oscar, but opened the scoring only minutes from the end of the first half when Fred’s header from a Neymar free kick deflected to substitute Dante, who calmly slotted the ball past Gianluigi Buffon’s left hand to make it 1-0. Dante, who had entered the match as a first half substitute for the injured David Luiz, scored in his hometown of Salvador de Bahia, and later revealed that he dreamed of scoring in front of his family and friends who were in attendance for the game.

Dante’s goal picked up the pace of the match significantly in the second half as Brazil sought to consolidate their lead and Italy attempted to claw their way back into the match. Emanuele Giaccherini equalized for Italy in the 51st minute after receiving a flick from Mario Balotelli on the right. Giaccherini delivered a bullet of a shot far post to score the first goal Brazil had conceded in the 2013 Confederations Cup. Minutes later, Neymar was brought down on the edge of the box and the Barca bound Brazilian sensation subsequently curled the ensuing free kick past the wall into the far right corner of the net to score his third consecutive goal in three matches.

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari called Neymar a “genius” and gushed at his prodigy’s performance and sensational free kick by noting:

He had lots of moments of quality, but what decided the game was the free kick. He noticed [Gianluigi] Buffon had taken a step to the side and put the ball on the other side. Only players who have that kind of notion, that we can call genius, are the ones who make the difference. And he makes the difference.

Ten minutes later, Fred appeared to seal the game for Brazil by magnificently controlling a long aerial delivery from Marcelo, sidestepping two defenders and sending a rocket of a shot into the roof the net to make it 3-1. But Italy were not going to bow down without a fight as Chienelli scored in the 71st minute from a corner kick deflection. The goal was hugely controversial because the referee appeared to have blown his whistle to signal a penalty for a foul on Mario Balotelli in the box, but then allowed play to continue that resulted in the Italian goal.

At 3-2, with twenty minutes remaining, the match entered its closing 20 minutes with an electric atmosphere and pace as Italy turned on the pressure in search of an equalizer. But it was Fred who finally decided the game in the 89th minute when substitute Bernard found Marcelo, whose shot ricocheted off Buffon to enable the poaching Fred to pounce for his second goal of the evening and set the score at 4-2.

Brazil fans are witnessing a milestone in the restoration and renovation of the team at this year’s Confederations Cup. After years of disappointing performances since the 2010 World Cup, with the team slipping to its lowest ever spot in the FIFA ranking, Luiz Felipe Scolari has started by fielding a consistent squad determined to deliver results first, and flair second. Scolari’s team has now beaten France, Japan, Mexico and Italy in succession. But the most important development for Brazil is Neymar’s emergence on the international stage as a striker, winger and creative midfielder rolled into one. Neymar has shown that he is much more of a team player than Brazil’s Ronaldo in ways that recall the great Pele, and his vision for his teammates and ability to change the overall tempo of the game has been demonstrated against world class opposition. The question now is whether Neymar and team can continue to perform at a high level as the tournament progresses to the elimination stage marked by their semifinal match on Wednesday. Italy, meanwhile, finished second in Group A and progresses to the semifinals to play Spain in a repeat of the 2012 European Championship final matchup.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Neymar Dazzles As Brazil Defeat Mexico 2-0 And Advance To Confederations Cup Semifinals

Brazil defeated Mexico 2-0 today to advance to the semifinals of the Confederations Cup as a result of Italy’s thrilling 4-3 victory over Japan. Neymar stole the show from the protesters who had gathered outside the stadium in Fortaleza by scoring his second spectacular goal for Brazil in as many games, creating innumerable problems for Mexican defenses and delivering a classy assist to striker Jo for Brazil’s second goal after some brilliant lead up play. The match showcased Neymar’s ability to “bear the weight” of Brazil’s legendary number 10 shirt, which was recently given to him by coach Luiz Felipe Scolari after a lengthy spell wherein Chelsea’s Oscar owned the number 10 jersey under the previous Brazil coach, Mano Menezes. Neymar has been the best player of the Confederations Cup by far, and his efflorescence of form arrives at exactly the right moment not only for the team, but also for fans and pundits who were beginning to write him off as a player that was unable to perform at a high level against non-Brazilian opposition.

Once again, Scolari resorted to his trademark tactic of initiating Brazil’s attack from the flanks, with Neymar, Hulk, Marcelo and Dani Alves all combining to stretch the Mexican defense. The first goal resulted from a Dani Alves cross that the Mexican defense failed to clear such that the ball landed to Neymar, who dispatched a brilliant volley into the back of the net. As in the first game against Japan, Neymar opened the scoring with a volley, but against Mexico, he scored with his left foot as opposed to his right in a move that recalled Brazil legend Ronaldo’s unique ability to effortlessly shoot off both feet. In the 15th minute, Dani Alves almost made it 2-0 with a skillful long range chip that Mexico’s goalkeeper Corona flicked over the bar at the last minute.

Mexico gathered their composure and applied pressure in the remainder of the first half, but quality chances were few and far between. Mexico’s right back Hiram Mier surged forward and managed to get around David Luiz but shot just wide of goal. Similarly, Dos Santos delivered a dangerous long range shot in the final minutes of the half but to no avail. Meanwhile, much of Brazil’s attention in the first half was centered around David Luiz, who bloodied his nose in a collision with Thiago Silva, and spent much of the half receiving medical attention on and off the field.

The game opened up again in the early minutes of the second half, with a disallowed Thiago Silva goal from a Neymar free kick, and a glorious opportunity for Hulk that the Zenit striker wasted by sending the ball squarely into the side netting instead of crossing to a teammate or shooting low, far post. Mexico then failed to convert a golden chance when Giovanni Dos Santos broke free down the left flank and crossed to Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, but David Luiz brilliantly intercepted the ball to keep the score 1-0 Brazil. Neymar had a couple of additional chances in the second half, but his most dazzling piece of artistry came in stoppage time when he sidestepped two defenders on the left edge of the box, burst into the penalty area and laid the ball on a platter for substitute Jo, who coolly sent the ball into the roof of the net for his second consecutive Confederations Cup goal.

The victory marked sweet revenge for Brazil who lost to Mexico in the final of the 2012 Olympics and recently in a friendly in Dallas as well. Alarmingly for Brazil, however, centre-back David Luiz broke his nose during the game even though he played all 90 minutes, and it remains to be seen whether Luiz will be able to continue for the remainder of the tournament. The good news for Brazil is that Italy’s dramatic 4-3 defeat of Japan means that both teams qualify for the semifinals, and hence have the luxury of resting key players for the third and final match of the group stage. That said, a second place finish in Group A would presumably require playing Spain in the semifinals, which both teams are likely to want to avoid. Mexico, meanwhile, were soundly eliminated after suffering two consecutive defeats and their problems continue to multiply given recent poor performances in Hexagonal Concacaf group qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Brazil Open Confederations Cup With 3-0 Victory Over Japan

Brazil delivered an emphatic 3-0 victory against Japan in their opening game of the Confederations Cup thanks to goals from Neymar, Paulinho and Jo. The victory gave Brazil the crucial three points they were seeking as they prepare for upcoming group stage matches against Mexico and Italy. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari fielded the same starting lineup that he used against France with his trademark two holding midfielders in the form of Luis Gustavo and Paulinho, and Chelsea’s Oscar positioned behind the attacking triumvirate of Neymar, Fred and Hulk. Alberto Zaccheroni, coach of Japan, played a 4-5-1 formation with the likes of Keisuke Honda, Yasuhito Endo and Shinji Kagawa positioned behind the lone striker Shinji Okazaki.

The match got off to a cracking start when Marcelo sent in a cross from the left flank that Fred chested down to compatriot Neymar, who volleyed an unstoppable shot into the top right corner of the net to give Brazil a dream start. Neymar’s goal ended a 9 international match goal drought. Wearing the famed number 10 jersey, Neymar delivered a characteristically colorful post-goal celebration as Brazil began their quest for a third consecutive Confederations Cup title in style.

Barcelona bound Neymar continued to combine well with Marcelo on the left flank while Hulk and Dani Alves correspondingly wreaked havoc down the right flank. As in the game against France, Scolari opted to position Paulinho and Luis Gustavo deep in midfield and press through Brazil’s trademark dangerous flank attack. Brazil commanded possession throughout the match and applied diligent pressure to every occasion in which Japan possessed the ball, allowing the Blue Samurai precious few opportunities to build up rhythm and momentum. When Japan did go forward, however, they looked like they might grab an equalizer through creative play from Okazaki and Keisuke Honda, particularly given the occasional mistake by David Luiz and Marcelo in Brazil’s backline.

Japan started the second half with vigor and determination, but it took only three minutes for Brazil to double their lead. Neymar collected a throw-in from Marcelo, weaved through a tangle of defenders toward the center of the box, and passed to Hulk, who fed Dani Alves on the right flank. Alves whipped in a cross to Paulinho, who turned like a striker and fired a low shot past the hand of Japan’s goalkeeper Kawashima. The strike marked Paulinho’s second goal for Brazil in three matches and illustrated the depth of Brazil’s attacking options given that they have recently benefited from goals from deeper lying midfielders such as Paulinho and Hernanes on more than one occasion.

Japan lacked their usual midfield creativity and looked sluggish in the second half. Up by two goals, Scolari decided to rest his attackers and substituted Neymar, Hulk and Fred for Lucas, Hernanes and Jo in quick succession. Brazil appeared content to hold onto possession and grind out a victory until the dying minutes when Oscar raced down the left flank and delivered a killer pass to Atletico Mineiro striker Jo, who dispatched the ball with clinical precision into the back of the net to make it 3-0 Brazil.

Today’s victory came head upon the heels of Brazil’s impressive 3-0 victory against France, and suggested Brazil is progressing in the right direction after several lackluster displays in the early matches of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s tenure as coach. Brazil must now prepare to face Mexico, the team that defeated them in last year’s Olympic final, on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Spain play Uruguay in the opening match of Group B and Mexico play Italy in the second match of Group A on Sunday.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Three Quick Observations On Brazil's Landmark 3-0 Victory Against France In Porto Alegre

Brazil secured their first victory against France since 1992 with a decisive 3-0 victory on Sunday in Porto Alegre. Sunday’s victory represents sweet revenge for Brazil given that they were eliminated by France in the 2006 and 1998 World Cups and additionally lost a hard fought friendly to France in February 2011. The victory means that Brazil marches into the Confederations Cup bursting with confidence because today’s match marked the national team’s first victory over a major European team in roughly three years. Scolari’s team delivered a tantalizing glimpse of Brazil’s attacking potential and ability to command the flanks in an impressive performance rendered all the more memorable because the victory came at the expense of Brazil’s arch-rival France, who were coached by Didier Deschamps, the midfelder who lifted the World Cup trophy after France defeated Brazil 3-0 in the 1998 World Cup final.

With the exception of Marcelo starting for Filipe Luis at left back, Scolari fielded exactly the same team that he started against England, with Neymar, Fred and Hulk spearheading the attack in front in front of Chelsea playmaker Oscar. Brazil almost scored in the first minute when a fumble by France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris meant that Neymar had possession of the ball in a position where the French goalkeeper had come off his line toward the edge of the box. The ball ultimately fell to Oscar, who was stymied by the French defense. Brazil had the lion’s share of chances in the first half, with Hulk, Neymar, Fred, Marcelo and Oscar attacking down the flanks in a strategy that dispensed of attacking straight down the middle of the park, and instead focused on delivering crosses into the box from wide positions.

Three key points about Brazil’s strategy today are worth noting as preparations begin in earnest for the kickoff of the Confederations Cup on June 15:

•Brazil played today in a variant of a 4-3-3 formation, specifically, a 4-2-1-3, with Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo positioned behind Oscar. Scolari likes the idea of two holding midfielders as opposed to one. In today’s match, Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo rarely joined the attack and played the ball laterally instead of forward, allowing the fullbacks to own the attacking jaunt toward goal. The main consequence of Paulinho and Gustavo’s static quality was that we saw Neymar and Oscar drop deep into midfield to collect the ball and surge forward. Neymar, in particular, lurked around center circle more than Brazil fans would like, and exploded down the left flank through beating Mathieu Debuchy and team with sheer pace.

•Scolari unleashed Brazil’s trademark flank attack in this match, and the move paid dividends in glorious fashion. Scolari’s emphasis on the flank attack differs significantly from his predecessor Mano Menezes, who focused on attacking down the center in a Barcelona-style, possession-based build up toward goal. Against France, Marcelo functioned as an auxiliary attacker, as did Dani Alves, although Hulk owned most of the flank attack on the right flank. Scolari’s move to free up the fullbacks restores Brazilian football to its roots with respect to the practice of stretching defenses such that they essentially confront five attackers instead of two or three.

•Brazil’s bench is bursting with talent to the point where Scolari can field two squads of roughly the same strength even assuming two to three injuries. In today’s match we saw Dante, Hernanes, Bernard, Fernando and Lucas all come on as substitutes, and if anything, the rhythm of the match went into a higher gear as the bevy of substitutes took the field. This was the first match where we have seen Dante, Thiago Silva and David Luiz all on the field at the same time, leaving many to wonder whether Scolari will eventually shift to the 2002 formation where he used three fullbacks in the form of Edmilson, Roque Junior and Lucio in order to free up the 2002 World Cup fullbacks Roberto Carlos and Cafu.

The significance of this victory is not to be underestimated even though this was a friendly. France have had Brazil’s number over the last 15 years and this match proved that Brazil’s youthful squad can win against a former World Cup champion. The buildup to all three goals by Oscar, Hernanes and Lucas was vintage with short, crisp passing from the flanks leading to possession in the box that led to goals. Buoyed by today’s victory, Brazil open their defense of the Confederations Cup with a match against Japan on Saturday, June 15. They then play Mexico and Italy in what are expected to be highly challenging matches that will severely test the ability of the Selecao to win a major win tournament roughly a year away from the 2014 World Cup’s kickoff in Sao Paulo.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Brazil And England Play To Memorable 2-2 Draw At Renovated Maracana Stadium

Brazil and England played to a memorable 2-2 draw at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro today in a game where Brazil dominated possession and England fought back on the counter-attack. Today’s game marked the first match at the newly renovated Maracana stadium where Brazil famously lost to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup final. Brazil fielded a 4-3-3 formation with Dani Alves, David Luiz, Thiago Silva and Filipe Luis in defense, Luis Gustavo, Paulinho and Oscar in midfield, and Neymar, Fred and Hulk as the attacking triumvirate. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari handed the famous number 10 jersey to Neymar instead of Oscar in a clear signal that he envisions the Barcelona-bound ex Santos star as the leader of the current youthful squad. England, on the other hand, played in a 4-5-1 formation with coach Roy Hodgson fielding striker Theo Walcott in a withdrawn position on the right flank behind Wayne Rooney.

Eager to avenge their 2-1 loss to England at Wembley Stadium in February, Brazil began by taking control of the midfield and attacking with their vintage short, crisp passing and the ability to beat defenders on the dribble. Moreover, Brazil pressured England relentlessly on the ball and allowed Roy Hodgson’s team little space by double teaming whenever England had possession. Chelsea midfielder Oscar orchestrated the lion’s share of Brazil’s attacks by dropping deep into midfield and sprinting forward in search of Neymar, Fred and Hulk. Neymar seemed keen to vindicate Scolari’s decision to grant him the number 10 jersey and shot on goal from close range in positions where he would have done better to pass to a teammate.

Neymar had a golden opportunity in the 19th minute when he received a pass with only the keeper to beat and shot it right into the body of the diving Joe Hart from the left flank. Two minutes later, Neymar collected a deft pass from Fred, sidestepped England defender Glen Johnson, but unleashed the shot just wide of goal. In the 35th minute, Oscar dribbled past a bevy of English defenders on the right flank and sent a bullet of a cross that Hulk backheeled just wide of goal. Minutes later, Oscar again found space on the right flank but Fred’s header floated over the bar. England’s best opportunity of the half came in the 39th minute, when Theo Walcott found space in the box to drive a shot straight at Julio Cesar, who parried the ball well.

The floodgates opened in the second half as Brazil continued to relentlessly apply pressure against the English goal. Playing largely in England’s half, Brazil continued to create chances and varied their passing game with some longer range shots on goal in an effort to disrupt Joe Hart’s rhythm. The long range strategy paid dividends in the 57th minute when Hernanes curled in a dipping shot that deflected off the cross-bar and fell to Fred lurking near the right side of goal, who twisted his body to dispatch the ball into the back of the net to give Brazil a deserved 1-0 lead. Buoyed by their breakthrough, the Samba boys rested on their laurels a little too much by easing up on their attacks and positioning themselves languidly in midfield. England were quick to capitalize on the let up in pressure as substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain carved out space outside the edge of the box and rifled in a right footed rocket past the right hand of Julio Cesar to make it 1-1 in the 66th minute. Ten minutes later, Brazil were staring defeat at the Maracana stadium squarely in the eye when Wayne Rooney burst down the left flank on a counterattacking opportunity and sent a curling, wonder of a shot into the roof of the net to make it 2-1 England. Scolari responded by sending on waves of substitutes and was granted a reprieve from an embarrassing loss when Lucas Moura’s cross found Paulinho, who volleyed the cross into the back of the net to make it 2-2 with less than 10 minutes of regulation time remaining.

Overall, this was a disappointing result for Brazil, who should genuinely feel they had their pulse on the game and deserved a victory given their possession and chances. On the other hand, Brazil fans can take heart from the fact that the midfield gelled for the first time since the 2012 Olympics, when the team delivered some impressive displays of midfield possession and creativity en route to the Olympic final. Moreover, Scolari can take heart from the depth of his squad given that his substitutions featured Real Madrid’s Marcelo, Lazio’s Hernanes, Internacional’s Leandro Damiao, Paris Saint-Germain’s Lucas Moura and Atletico Mineiro’s playmaker Bernard. Neymar, meanwhile, struggled to live up to the weight of expectations, this time in the number 10 jersey, no less. Nevertheless, Brazil fans and Scolari will be impressed by the pace of the Brazilian midfield and can expect the team to only improve both in the next two weeks and throughout the upcoming Confederations Cup. Brazil’s next friendly is against France on June 9 in Porto Alegre.

Brazil: Fred (57), Paulinho (82)
England: Oxlade-Chamberlain (66), Rooney (77)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Neymar Signs For Barcelona In Move That Bodes Well For Brazilian National Team

Santos striker Neymar has signed a five year agreement with Barcelona, ending years of speculation about his future as a football player in the wake of attempts by Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid to sign the Brazilian sensation.

A statement by Barcelona regarding Neymar's signing read:

The player is known for his exquisite technical skills which makes this free-scoring striker a nightmare for any defence

His style is beautiful to watch and he has received recognition and praise from the legendary Pelé himself, of whom many believe he is the modern successor

FC Barcelona and Santos FC have agreed to terms for Neymar da Silva Junior. The Brazilian forward will don the Blaugrana strip for the next five seasons.

Santos faced pressure to accept offers for Neymar given that his contract expired in July 2014 and consequently, Neymar would have been able to enter into pre-contract agreements with other clubs six months from now. A Santos statement noted that they tried everything possible to retain Neymar, but were unable to compete with this week's offers from Barcelona and Real Madrid:

Every effort was made to keep him in Brazil as long as possible, even offering to renew the current contract, which ends in July 2014. At this time, however, it was not possible to compete with the terms offered from abroad, which affected the decision of the player to review his professional life. Due to the confidentiality agreement, and by mutual agreement, the terms of the transfer will not be disclosed by any of the parties.

Neymar is famous for his flamboyant dribbling abilities and love of taking on defenders using a combination of flicks, step over moves and pace. He is also known for his free kicks, penalties marked by long run ups to the penalty spot and corner kicks delivered with exquisite precision. He has been at Santos for nine years and is largely responsible for the greatest success enjoyed by the club since Pele's era in the 1970s. Neymar led Santos to the 2011 Copa Libertadores trophy, the 2010 Brazil Serie A championship and three consecutive Sao Paulo statement tournaments. Both for Santos and Brazil, Neymar typically plays on the far left and then cuts inside toward goal, but has typically been granted carte blanche authority to roam all over the pitch in a sign of coaching respect that recalls the freedom similarly accorded to Brazil's legend Ronaldo.

Neymar's decision to play in Europe will be enthusiastically applauded by coaches and pundits in Brazil, many of whom feel that the spiky haired Santos 21 year old needs more experience playing against European defenses in order to lead Brazil to victory at the 2014 World Cup. Neymar has scored 138 goals for Santos in 229 matches, and 20 goals in 32 appearances for Brazil. Many critics in Brazil, however, have argued that Neymar has yet up to live up to his potential when playing against European-style defenses marked by an additional player that is ready to mark the striker after he beats the primary defender on the dribble. Neymar will join Barcelona after the Confederations Cup on June 30 and play one final game for Santos against Flamengo, in the season's opener, in order to pay tribute to the club that he helped resurrect and lead over the last five years.

Neymar has been singled out by Brazilian luminaries such as the late Socrates, Pele and others as only truly great player of his generation in Brazil. Given the wealth of experience enabled by playing alongside Lionel Messi and some of the best defenders in the world in European competition, Neymar's move to Barcelona now renders him better positioned to lead Brazil to a record sixth World Cup title on home soil in the summer of 2014. The obvious question, now, however, is where Barcelona will position him alongside Messi up front and how well he will adapt to European football.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Scolari Drops Ronaldinho And Kaka As Youth Triumphs In Brazil's Confederations Cup Squad

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari shockingly dropped both Ronaldinho and Kaka from the Brazil squad for the 2013 Confederations Cup tournament after having teased journalists for weeks by noting that there was room for one or the other of the two aging stars, but not both. Corinthians striker Alexandre Pato and Chelsea midfielder Ramires were also dropped from the squad. Held from June 15 to June 30, the Confederations Cup represents Brazil’s last major tournament before the 2014 World Cup, and as such, Brazil’s form will be meticulously studied in preparation for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.

Brazil is initially drawn with Japan, Mexico and Italy in a highly competitive berth with stiff competition likely to be delivered both by Mexico and Italy. The other half of the bracket features Spain, Uruguay, Tahiti and Nigeria. Like the 2014 World Cup, the 2013 Confederations Cup is based in Brazil and thereby gives FIFA an opportunity to assess the match-readiness of Brazil’s stadiums and infrastructure and participating coaches and teams the experience of playing competitive football in Brazil.

A summary of key points from Scolari’s squad selection includes the following:

•The selection of Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Dante and Rever as candidates for two positions in central defense
•The selection of Paulinho, Hernanes and Oscar in midfield
•The standard pairing of Marcelo and Dani Alves on the flanks
•A mouthwatering set of options in attack featuring Neymar, Fred, Hulk, Leandro Damiao and Atletico Mineiro’s playmaker Bernard

•The omission of Ronaldinho despite his scintillating form for Atletico Mineiro of late in the Copa Libertadores
•The omission of Kaka despite having combined well with Neymar in select friendlies under Mano Menezes
•The omission of Corinthians striker Alexandre Pato, Chelsea midfielder Ramires and Vasco da Gama centreback Dede

But despite the omissions of Ronaldinho and Kaka, Scolari refused to close the door on veteran stars by noting:
History is not over for the veterans. This list is for the Confederations Cup only. We have a project to watch other players who might add more to our group to the World Cup. After the CC [Confederations Cup], we'll be going to Europe, to places like Russia, Ukraine, England, to watch players from there. We'll see how this one goes and who else can add more to us. To everyone who was left out: play, show us your football, prove you can add to the squad. They could be planting a little seed for the future.
Ronaldinho responded to the omission from the 2013 Confederations Cup squad as follows:
Motivated more than ever. I really wanted to have been summoned, did not happen that way, so it motivates me so I have to play even more to be remembered in the future.
Scolari’s omission of both Ronaldinho and Kaka heightened speculation about his probable selections in midfield and attack. In midfield, fans can expect Oscar and Hernanes but the key question is whether Scolari has the courage to push David Luiz deep into midfield, behind Hernanes, and partner Thiago Silva with Dante in central defense. The other obvious option would be to field Fernando and Paulinho behind Oscar and Hernanes. Scolari’s midfield selection will dictate whether he opts for three attackers in the form of Neymar and Hulk flanking Fred, or simply Neymar and Fred with Hulk and Lucas Moura coming off the bench as substitutes.

Brazil Squad For 2013 Confederations Cup

Goalkeepers: Júlio César (QPR), Diego Cavalieri (Fluminense), Jefferson (Botafogo) Central Defenders: Thiago Silva (PSG), Réver (Atlético-MG), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich)

Fullbacks: Dani Alves (Barcelona), Jean (Fluminense), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid)

Midfielders: Fernando (Grêmio), Paulinho (Corinthians), Hernanes (Lazio), Luiz Gustavo (Bayern Munich), Oscar (Chelsea), Lucas Moura (PSG), Jadson (São Paulo), Bernard (Atlético-MG)

Strikers: Fred (Fluminense), Leandro Damião (Internacional), Hulk (Zenit), Neymar (Santos)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Three Promising Signs For Brazil In Their Disappointing 2-2 Draw Against Chile

Brazil’s 2-2 draw against Chile on Wednesday was one of the most horrendous displays by the Selecao in recent memory. The fullbacks and defensive midfield were nonexistent, and overall, the team didn’t play as a team at all, but rather as a collection of atomized individuals. That said, Scolari did mention that friendlies such as these were opportunities to try out new players, and that may have been all that he got out of the exercise. Rever continued to perform well in defense, as did Henrique, who substituted for Dede in the second half. Meanwhile, Jean and Marcos Rocha delivered ineffective performances that suggest that the alternative to Dani Alves on the right flank is not based in Brazil, but at Manchester United in the form of Rafael. Regardless, Wednesday’s match witnessed three key promising developments with respect to individual players:

•Neymar trekked back deep into midfield, and sometimes even into his own half, to retrieve the ball and get some service. He even began looking for space on the right flank as opposed to the left, and explored more attacking options down the center as well. This is wonderful news for the Selecao, because this is exactly what Brazil's Ronaldo used to do, albeit with more pace, strength and confidence than Neymar. Neymar will need to continue to return deep into midfield since national teams know well that the secret to containing him simply involves double teaming him on the left flank.

•Ronaldinho is slowly but surely beginning to assert his vision and leadership on the team. This game witnessed some terrific visionary passes and flicks from the old master, who was also pivotally involved in the second goal. The Dinho-Neymar partnership continues to develop and will be one of the pillars of the national team unless Kaka stages a miraculous return to form in the next 6 months. Ronaldinho also played for 90 minutes and is clearly back to acceptable fitness levels for a 33 year old midfield playmaker.

•Pato is returning to full fitness, and we saw this in some exemplary play throughout the second half, and particularly in the second goal that he initiated. Corinthians have reportedly accused AC Milan of mismanaging his injuries, and this is good news for Brazil fans because Pato is the best pure Brazilian striker available today. If Pato can recover his fitness and form with the help of his club Corinthians, Brazil’s problems up front evaporate and the entire makeup of the team changes for the better.

With the exception of Rever, Neymar, Ronaldinho and Pato, the domestically based players do not look like viable candidates for the national team. Leandro Damiao continues to disappoint by virtue of his static play up front and even Paulinho had an indifferent game in which he failed to assert his authority on attacks emanating from deep positions. Part of the reason for Brazil’s poor performance, of course, stemmed from some remarkable play by an attack-oriented Chilean team that allowed Brazil virtually no time on the ball. That said, Paulinho, Ralf and Jadson failed to impress and will struggle for a starting place in the lineup given the likes of Hernanes and Ramires in deep midfield positions. Nevertheless, amidst all the disappointment, Brazil fans have at least three glimmers of hope about which to cheer as they look forward to their next friendly against England on June 2.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Brazil Squad For April 24 Chile Friendly

The Brazil squad for the April 24 Chile friendly is as follows:

Diego Cavalieri (Fluminense), Jefferson (Botafogo).

Marcos Rocha (Atletico Mineiro), Andre Santos (Gremio), Rever (Atletico Mineiro), Henrique (Palmeiras), Dede (Vasco)

Jean (Fluminense), Fernando (Gremio), Ralf (Corinthians), Paulinho (Corinthians), Jadson (Sao Paulo), Ronaldinho (Atletico Mineiro).

Neymar (Santos), Leandro Damiao (Internacional), Leandro (Palmeiras), Alexandre Pato (Corinthians), Osvaldo (Sao Paulo).

Expect Ronaldinho to start in midfield alongside Jadson, Ralf and Paulinho in a formation that very closely resembles the lineup against Bolivia.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Scolari's Next Move: David Luiz In Deep Midfield and A Thiago Silva, Dante Partnership In Central Defense

After the recent friendly against Bolivia, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari praised Rever’s performance and noted that the team had no shortage of talent in central defense. Scolari remarked that Brazil had at least five players vying for two spots in central defense and that, of these, he could take four players to the 2013 Confederations Cup. All this suggests that Scolari is actively thinking about disrupting the central defensive partnership of Thiago Silva and David Luiz that became the mainstay of Brazil’s central defense under Mano Menezes and either pushing David Luiz into a deep midfield role or perhaps, more radically, relegating Luiz to the bench given his renowned tendency to make mistakes. Of these two moves, pushing David Luiz into midfield is by far the more likely option given his wealth of international experience and leadership ability. As Brazil’s attacking midfield begins to gel led by Ronaldinho and Oscar, Scolari is likely to push Luiz into a deep midfield playmaking position behind Hernanes, and partner Thiago Silva with Bayern Munich’s Dante, Vasco da Gama’s Dede or Atletico Mineiro’s Rever in central defense. Scolari himself remarked on the possibility of pushing David Luiz into midfield before the Brazil-England friendly as follows:
David Luiz has played most of his games since the Club World Cup as a defensive midfielder. He's a third centre-back, but who plays in front [of the defensive line].He has this ability and it gives us an alternative. I think it's a good chance to try this during the game, but we won't start like this. To sort this, we need time for training to work on the fine details of positioning. For now, it is an alternative for during the games, but we won't start like that.
Assuming Brazil does evolve to a formation whereby David Luiz plays as the first man of midfield in a deep playmaking role with defensive responsibilities as well, Scolari has three partnering options for Thiago Silva in central defense as follows:

The 29 year old Bayern Munich central defender is known for his composure, prowess in the air, tactical awareness and ability to push forward and create goal scoring opportunities. Dante has superb tackling accuracy and typical Brazilian defensive composure marked by the ability to calmly play the ball out of defensive situations.

The Vasco da Gama central defender is known for his physical strength, towering physical presence, ability in the air, leadership in central defense and ability to score from set pieces.

The Atletico Mineiro defender is known for his positional awareness, ability in the air and track record of scoring goals.

Dante represents the strongest candidate for a partner for Thiago Silva given his experience with European football and clinical tackling accuracy. A Thiago Silva-Dante partnership in the Brazilian central defense enables Scolari to leverage Luiz’s playmaking ability and strong physical presence to support Dani Alves, Marcelo and Hernanes in a move that would give Brazil all of the benefits of a holding midfielder in addition to Luiz’s ability to orchestrate attacks and join the attack as needed as well.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Neymar and Ronaldinho Lead Brazil To 4-0 Victory Over Bolivia

Brazil pranced to their first victory under newly appointed coach Luis Felipe Scolari with an impressive 4-0 win over Bolivia in Santa Cruz de la Sierra on Saturday. Scolari opted for a 4-2-2-2 formation with Paulinho and Ralf behind Ronaldinho and Jadson, who in turn were positioned behind Neymar and Leandro Damiao. Scolari gave Ronaldinho both the number 10 jersey and the captain’s armband in a clear signal that team leadership belonged to him in contrast to Neymar, the second most experienced member of a Brazil squad composed entirely of domestically-based players. Ronaldinho commanded the midfield and orchestrated attacks with his trademark vision of the entire run of play by picking out both Damiao and Neymar and delivering threatening curling balls into the box from free-kicks.

Leandro Damiao opened the scoring in the 5th minute by latching onto a pass from the right flank delivered by Jean, who played in an unfamiliar position as a right fullback. Damiao’s goal failed to open the floodgates but it was Ronaldinho’s magic in an attacking midfield position that tilted the match decidedly in Brazil’s favor. First, a Ronaldinho free kick led to a scramble in the box followed by a Brazil goal that was deemed offside. Minutes later, however, Ronaldinho sent a flick through to Neymar on the left flank who, in turn, flicked the ball over the Bolivian keeper to make it 2-0 Brazil in the 31st minute. Ten minutes later, Neymar converted his second goal of the match when Jadson delivered a bullet of a cross from the right flank that Neymar directed into the roof of the net with a perfectly timed touch.

After conceding three goals in the first half, Bolivia dominated possession in the opening 20 minutes of the second half but failed to produce any high percentage shots on goal. Vasco da Gama’s Dede impressively marshalled the Brazilian defense alongside Rever and showed that Scolari has plenty of options to complement the pairing of Thiago Silva and David Luiz in central defense. Scolari himself commented on the quality of Brazil’s centrebacks by noting:
All centrebacks I call up end up living up to the expectations and that was Réver's case too. I already have four or five centrebacks fighting for the same position, and I can take four [for the Confederations Cup], so that's great.
After the first half, Scolari substituted Neymar and Damiao with Osvaldo and Alexandre Pato. Despite Pato’s invisibility for almost the entire second half, Brazil remained lively thanks to the combined efforts of Ronaldinho, Jadson, Osvaldo and Paulinho, the latter of whom initiated Brazil’s fourth goal by bringing the ball forward and enabling a cross to Palmeiras youngster Leandro, who confidently struck the ball deep into the roof of the net to make it 4-0. Leandro’s goal capped an impressive performance by Brazil which, despite fielding only domestic players, is brimming with talent in defensive and midfield positions. Brazil next plays Chile on April 24 as they prepare for the Confederations Cup in June.  Like the Bolivia match, the Brazil-Chile friendly on April 24 will feature only domestically-based players as it does not fall on a designated FIFA calendar date.

Brazil: Leandro Damiao (5), Neymar (31, 42), Leandro (90)

Starting Lineups
Brazil: Jefferson (GK), Santos, Dedé, Réver, Jean, Jádson, Paulinho, Ralf, Ronaldinho, Leandro Damião, Neymar
Bolivia: Galarza (GK), Eguino, Zenteno, Bejarano, Melean, Campos, Bejarano, Moreno, Arce, Rojas, Veizaga

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fred Comes To The Rescue To Help Brazil Tie Russia 1-1

Brazil and Russia played to a spirited 1-1 draw at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge stadium in a match full of chances that both teams failed to convert with the exception of one goal apiece. Fabio Capello’s Russian team appeared rested after having missed their scheduled friendly to Northern Ireland due to weather. Russia threatened the Brazil goal in the opening minutes thanks to strikes by Kerzhakov and Ignashevich. As the first half wore on, however, Brazil gradually began to assert themselves through the efforts of Neymar, who selfishly attempted to go for goal himself on more than one occasion when either Fred, Oscar or Kaka were better positioned to convert. Kaka and Marcelo contributed to the Brazilian attack while Hernanes remained largely in a deeper playmaking position and distributed passes to both flanks with impressive precision. Russia, however, maintained good form and cohesion both defensively and in midfield, thereby displaying superior positioning in comparison to Brazil, who played in characteristic Samba fashion with Neymar, Oscar and Kaka slicing their way through midfield supported by dangerous flank attacks from Dani Alves and Marcelo. Just as Brazil began to gain momentum, however, Russian midfielder Fayzulin picked up a pass from Kerzhakov and unleashed a rocket of a shot that Cesar narrowly deflected in the 41st minute.

Brazil emerged from the break determined to take control of the game as Neymar and Kaka began pressing attacks fed by passes from Oscar and Hernanes. The match began to turn, however, soon after Oscar’s substitution for Hulk in the 67th minute. In the 73rd minute, Russia finally broke through after the ball bounced as if through a pinball machine in the box for a couple of minutes before Fayzulin finally shot it past a line of Brazilian defenders into the back of the net. Russia appeared headed for their first ever victory over Brazil were it not for the efforts of Hulk on the left flank, who began to show that his experience with Zenit had not gone to nought  as he consistently troubled the right fullback Eschenko. Just when it appeared that Scolari was headed for his second loss in three games as Brazil coach, Marcelo played a give and go with Hulk whereby the Zenit striker drifted inward and returned the ball to the onrushing Marcelo, who in turn crossed to Fred in the box for the equalizer. Brazil piled on the pressure in the closing minutes but were lucky not to come away with a defeat given a late Shirokov shot from close range that went wide in the 93rd minute.

Key points from today’s game with respect to Brazil were as follows:
  • Brazil continues to develop an impressive midfield marked by extreme pace, vision and creative attacks and combination play.
  •  Fred remains far too static for a number 9 to cause any serious difficulty for the opposition. Ronaldo, recall, used to retreat deep into midfield and run at the heart of defenses. Fred, however, is both incredibly static and unthreatening for large parts of the game. Nevertheless, the Fluminense striker has now scored for four consecutive games in a row for Brazil, so Brazil fans should be thankful that at least someone can put the ball in the back of the net.
  • This was yet another disappointing display by Neymar, whose inexperience with European defenders is becoming painfully apparent. Scolari will need to figure out how to more effectively position the Santos sensation so that he can properly execute the threatening runs into the box that he would like to make.
  • Hulk inspired the Brazilian attack today after a disappointing performance against Italy four days ago. Were it not for his strength and vision, Brazil would have lost yet another match and dropped even further in FIFA World rankings.
Scolari is making progress with Brazil, as we are beginning to see a mature midfield supplemented by two of the finest fullbacks in the world in the form of Marcelo and Dani Alves. Brazil’s poor finishing is perhaps the most alarming aspect of their game, however, as Fred and Neymar, in particular, both had high quality chances that they failed to bury into the back of the net. The main cause of concern, however, hinges around Neymar and whether he can be unleashed to display his unique blend of skill and vision on the international stage. If so, Brazil stand a fighting chance of winning the World Cup. Without a confident Neymar, however, it is unlikely Brazil will progress past the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup and perhaps not even to that stage of the tournament at all.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Brazil And Italy Play To Breathtaking 2-2 Draw In Geneva

Brazil and Italy played to a breathtaking 2-2 draw in Thursday’s friendly in Geneva, Switzerland that conjured up memories of their memorable match at the 1982 World Cup where Italy emerged the winner as a result of Paolo Rossi’s famous hat-trick despite all of the attacking initiatives of the likes of Socrates, Zico, Eder and Falcao. On this occasion, Brazil leapt to a 2-0 lead at halftime thanks to goals by Fred and Oscar in the first half. Italy roared out of the gates in the second half and equalized thanks to a flick by Daniele De Rossi and a screamer of a goal by Mario Balotelli from 25 yards to level the match. Italy’s fightback was largely attributable to coach Prandelli’s decision to bring on Stephan El Shaarawy for Pablo Osvaldo in a move that added additional steel to the Azzuri’s attack and freed up Balotelli, in particular, to find the space to take more chances against a Brazilian defense that still needs to fine tune its positioning. Despite their second half goals, Italy played sustained attacking football throughout the game and can consider themselves denied of a win only by the acrobatics of Brazil’s goalkeeper, Julio Cesar, who once again demonstrated why many regard him as the best goalkeeper in the modern game.

Some quick thoughts on the game, with a focus on Brazil, are as follows:

•Today’s game was played at an electric pace, with end to end football for the first 60 minutes. Both Italy and Brazil demonstrated that they are serious contenders for the World Cup 2014 championship despite some dubious recent performances from both teams. Both teams transitioned well from defense to offense and created more chances than they were able to convert. Judging by today’s game, fans who find Spain’s possession play boring will discover refreshing alternatives in Italy and Brazil as they tweak their lineups and positioning for World Cup 2014.

•Brazil’s Ronaldinho, who was left out of the Brazil squad, would likely have struggled in a game marked by this kind of pace and sheer velocity. The same holds true for Kaka, who looked fresh, but was unable to impose his presence on the game after entering as a second half substitute for Oscar.

•Hernanes delivered a solid performance in a deep playmaker role that is likely to earn him a start against Russia on March 25. Brazil has struggled to find a deep lying playmaker since the days of Falcao and Cerezzeo from Tele Santana’s legendary 1982 squad, and Hernanes may well be just the man to anchor the transition to attack and orchestrate attacks on both flanks and down the center as well.

•Neymar, again, showed that he plays best when he withdraws deep into midfield and runs at the center of defenses as evinced by the sublime run he made to set up Oscar for Brazil’s second goal. The Neymar and Oscar pairing continues to develop and coalesce as a fixture in the Brazilian attacking formation and their partnership may well end up being the stage on which Brazil launches its case for World Cup 2014 in ways analogous to the pairings of Romario and Bebeto, or, more pertinently, Ronaldo and Rivaldo.

•Hulk delivered a disappointing performance, and this may partly be Scolari’s fault because he switched Hulk to the left flank and opted to let Dani Alves and Oscar own the right side of the field. Nevertheless, Lucas Moura is the obvious alternative selection and could well end up partnering more effectively with Neymar, Oscar and Fred than the burly Zenit striker.

In just two matches in charge, Scolari has overhauled the Brazil team and given it new life and a more balanced feel in terms of age, experience and skill. Scolari still has lots of work to do in terms of finding the right balance in central defense and midfield, but he clearly has his pulse on Brazilian football around the world in a way not shared by his predecessor Mano Menezes, whose vision was closer to Brazil-based players that he knew well. Like Menezes, Scolari has begun by tinkering with the Brazilian midfield. Thus far, he has avoided the temptation to opt for a defensive stopper qua Lucas Leiva and stayed true to Tele Santana’s vision of having four creative midfielders in deep and attacking positions. That said, Scolari is notoriously difficult to predict as a coach though what does seem to be the case is that the pieces of the Brazilian footballing puzzle are gradually starting to fall together after close to three years of experimentation.

Brazil: Fred (33), Oscar (42)
Italy: De Rossi (54), Balotelli (57)

Brazil: Julio Cesar(GK), Dani Alves, David Luiz, Dante, Filipe Luis (Marcelo, 77), Fernando, Oscar (Kaka, 60), Hernanes, Neymar, Fred (Diego Costa, 69), Hulk (Jean, 85)
Italy: Buffon (GK), Maggio, De Sciglio (Antonelli, 73), Barzagli, Bonucci, De Rossi (Diamanti, 80), Pirlo (Cerci, 45), Montolivo, Giaccherini (Poli, 67), Balotelli (Gilardino, 82), Osvaldo (El Shaarawy, 45).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Scolari Drops Kaka From Starting XI For Brazil Against Italy

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari brazenly announced his starting lineup for today’s match against Italy while his counterpart, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli refused to reveal details of Italy's squad for the friendly in Geneva, Switzerland. Scolari opted to leave Kaka out of the starting lineup and instead field Lazio playmaker Hernanes and Chelsea’s Oscar in midfield in front FC Porto’s defensive midfielder Fernando. Fernando, Hernanes and Oscar will play behind an attacking triumvirate composed of Neymar, Fred and Hulk in a 4-3-3 formation. The back four features a central defensive partnership of Thiago Silva and David Luiz in midfield while the left and right flanks belong to Filipe Luis and Dani Alves, respectively. Filipe Luis was selected ahead of Real Madrid’s Marcelo in a move that suggests that Scolari may be interested in restraining Luis's attacking freedom given Marcelo’s inherent tendency to function as an auxiliary attacker.

The key selections, however, are Hernanes and Hulk, both of whom were sorely missing in Brazil's abysmal performance against England in February. Expect Hulk to threaten on the right flank with his surging runs and long distance cannon shots with his left foot. Hernanes, on the other hand, has the more difficult role of running the Brazilian midfield by dropping deep to free up Oscar and Neymar while orchestrating attacks down the center as well. Brazil’s performance is likely to hinge on the positioning of Hernanes and Oscar and the question of whether they can create enough movement off the ball to free up the attackers to score goals and restore Brazil’s almost forgotten winning mentality. 

Brazil Starting Lineup: Julio Cesar; Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Filipe Luis; Fernando, Hernanes, Oscar; Hulk, Fred, Neymar

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Scolari Says Ronaldinho Will Be Called Up Again For The Brazilian National Team

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has revealed that Ronaldinho will be called up again to the national team ahead of the 2013 Confederations Cup despite being omitted from the squad for the upcoming friendlies against Italy and Russia. Speaking of Ronaldinho and his squad selection philosophy, Scolari remarked:
Ronaldinho will be called up next time. All potential World Cup squad members will be given at least two matches to be looked at.
Scolari then elaborated on Kaka’s recall by noting it was part of a larger philosophy of giving a select group of players the chance to display what they can do for the national team:
Kaka's return goes with our philosophy of giving everybody a chance. Many of the players are fighting for the same position. I will observe all of them and then I will decide who will go to the Confederations Cup.
Kaka and Ronaldinho play in similar positions at the heart of Brazil’s attacking midfield and it is likely there will be room for only one of the two World Cup champions on the 2014 World Cup squad. The confederations cup will be hosted in Brazil and runs from June 15 to June 30, 2013.  Brazil are the defending champions in an 8 team tournament that additionally features Spain, Japan, Mexico, Uruguay, Tahiti, Italy and Nigeria.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Kaka Recalled For Brazil Squad Against Italy and Russia While Ronaldinho Omitted

Brazil coached Luiz Felipe Scolari named a strong Brazil squad for the upcoming friendlies against Italy and Russia on March 21 and March 25, respectively. Scolari is under intense pressure to win both matches given Brazil’s 2-1 loss to England at Wembley stadium on February 6 in his first match in charge of the Selecao. Brazil’s 2-1 loss to Roy Hodgson’s team marked their first defeat by England in 23 years and raised serious doubts about whether Brazil has enough time to prepare a World Cup squad capable of winning the 2014 World Cup given the recent firing of Mano Menezes after having coached Brazil for close to two years. 

In the match against England, Scolari selected and started Ronaldinho in the center of midfield but the Atletico Mineiro star was noticeably absent from Scolari’s selection for Italy and Russia. Instead, the squad notably features the return of Kaka despite failing to obtain a regular spot in Jose Mourinho’s starting lineup for Real Madrid. Highlights of the squad selection include the following:
  • The return of Kaka to the attacking Brazilian midfield
  • The return of left-back Marcelo after missing several national team matches due to injury
  • The recall of Vasco da Gama’s centre-forward Dede
  • The inclusion of Hernanes after the Lazio playmaker was forced to miss the England friendly because of a concussion sustained during club play
  • The omission of Ronaldinho, Luis Fabiano, Lucas Leiva and Manchester United’s in form right-back Rafael
Kaka has shown that he partners well with Neymar and helps the Santos striker by making diagonal runs toward the left flank in ways that tend to distract defenders from Neymar and enable exciting combination play in the box. Meanwhile, the selection of Hernanes means that Scolari may have the luxury of fielding Kaka, Hernanes, Oscar and Paulinho in a midfield quartet positioned behind Neymar and Fred. Scolari’s other complication concerns Lucas Moura’s impressive form at Paris Saint-Germain and the question of whether Lucas and Hulk can claim places in the starting lineup. 

Scolari made a tacit reference to Ronaldinho by remarking on his squad selection as follows:
I'm giving the players the same opportunities, they'll have one or two matches to play and then I'll make a decision. I don't know if they will be back in the future or not. I'll use these four matches that I have to observe the players and then I'll decide what to do for the Confederations Cup.
Depending on how the squad gels for Italy and Russia, Ronaldinho may have a chance to play in Brazil’s April friendly against Chile. The friendlies against Italy and Russia represent an opportunity for Neymar to respond to Pele’s recent criticisms that the Santos star is fundamentally an ordinary player who lacks the ability to shoulder Brazil’s World Cup dreams given his inexperience with European football. Pele charged Neymar with playing badly every time he plays outside of Brazil and further criticized the Copa Libertadores star for excessive attention to his hairstyle. 

Italy and Russia represent two difficult friendlies for Brazil at this stage of their evolution as a team. Expect Kaka and Hernanes to step up and control the Brazilian midfield while freeing up Oscar to drop deep and wide as necessary. We should also expect Neymar to vary his play and assert his presence more on the team’s flow and attacking rhythm by retreating deeper into midfield and running at defenses instead of getting stymied as a result of double and triple teaming defenders on the left flank.  

Brazil Squad For Friendlies Against Italy and Russia

Julio Cesar (Queens Park Rangers), Diego Cavalieri (Fluminense).

Dani Alves (Barcelona), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dede (Vasco da Gama), Dante (Bayern Munich), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain).

Paulinho (Corinthians), Ramires (Chelsea), Jean (Fluminense), Fernando (Gremio), Luiz Gustavo (Bayern Munich), Kaka (Real Madrid), Hernanes (Lazio), Oscar (Chelsea), Lucas Moura da Silva (Paris Saint-Germain).

Neymar (Santos), Fred (Fluminense), Hulk (Zenit), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid).