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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.

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