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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.