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.