Monday, 25 July 2011

Copa América review: BRAZIL

Now on to the five-time world champions, winners of eight... Ah forget it, they need no introduction. Let's talk about BRAZIL.

After a poor showing at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, big changes had to be made to the Seleção with the next World Cup taking place on home soil in 2014. The CBF (the Brazilian football association) moved swiftly, sacking Dunga and bringing in ex-Corinthians and Grêmio boss Mano Menezes. The transformations brought about by Menezes have been well documented and I myself talked about this at length in a previous article over at (shameless self-promotion, I know!).

Even with the public more focussed on preparing for 2014, anything other than victory still means disappointment in Brazil. This time, the Seleção were eliminated at the hands of Paraguay in the quarter finals after topping Group B. Things started slowly with two draws in their opening two matches, but they secured a vital 4x2 win over Ecuador in their final group game. In the quarter final, Brazil played well and were certainly the better team, but they failed to score and were beaten on penalties.

Mano Menezes' tactics (as touched on in my previous article) were to set up in a 4-2-1-3 formation and attempt to be more creative without relying on counter-attacks. The central midfield duo changed from Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo to the much more athletic Premier League partnership of Lucas Leiva and Ramires. Santos' highly rated midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso sits in the playmaking role behind the three forwards. Menezes tinkered with the shape a little, especially during the group match with Paraguay, but the strategy was generally the same.

Against Venezuela in La Plata, Brazil made a superb start and they were in control for the majority of the match. However, Venezuela's defensive midfield pairing of Rincón and Lucena grew into the tie and marked Ganso very well, forcing Brazil to alter their focus. Ganso's position was far too high for his role, meaning that Brazil struggled to link up their midfield and attack, the only direct link they had was the forward runs of Ramires. However that brought about its own dangers, as whenever Ramiers burst forward his midfield partner Lucas Leiva was left totally exposed to the counter attack.
Formations for Brazil x Venezuela [Note Ganso (10) playing very high, leaving the Brazil shape disjointed]
In the second half Menezes brought on Fred, Lucas and Elano to try and change the match, but the ended up relying on set-pieces and long balls and the match finished 0x0.

Against Paraguay, Menezes altered the formation a little, bringing in Shakhtar Donetsk's Jadson (whom Menezes trained in Internacional's youth team) for Robinho. This switch nudged the shape of the forward quartet a bit, resulting in something close to a slanted 4-2-2-2, the same formation used by Dunga at the 2010 World Cup. Jadson seemed like a good addition and he formed an impressive partnership with Ganso, the two combining well for Jadson to score the opening goal. Oddly enough, after a great first half performance Jadson was substituted at the half time break.
Menezes' standed 4-2-2-2
Going into the second half, it became plain to see that Brazil's defence were having an off day and Paraguay really started to take an advantage. Daniel Alves was particularly poor, exuberant winger Estigarribia gave him the run-around for the entire match. Paraguay scored twice and it looked like Brazil would be defeated until substitute Fred scored a last minute equaliser.

In the all-important final group match against Ecuador, Menezes went back to the 4-2-1-3 by reinstating Robinho at the expense of Jadson. Maicon also started ahead of Daniel Alves at right back after the latter's shocking performance in the previous match. The game was very open, with Brazil's attack playing well and looking like an improved version of the Venezuela match. Ganso played in a much smarter position closer to the midfield and Brazil managed to create chances and put four goals past Ecuador. At the other end of the field though, the centre back pairing and goalkeeper Júlio César looked very suspect. Júlio made some glaring errors and Ecuador managed to hit the back of the net twice as the game finished 4x2.

That three points meant that Brazil ended up winning Group B and progressed to the quarter finals to play the second best third-placed side, which happened to be a rematch with group rivals Paraguay. For that clash, Mano Menezes maintained the same side that defeated Ecuador and Brazil probably played their best football of the tournament, creating well and controlling the match.

The only problem was that they could not seem to score the opening goal and thanks to some heroic saves from Justo Villar in the Paraguay goal, the match stayed goalless throughout the ninety minutes and subsequent extra time. So, the decision went to a penalty shoot-out and everyone looked on open-mouthed as Brazil missed all four of their spot-kicks and were eliminated.

As I mentioned at the start of the article, anything less than victory spells great disappointment when it comes to the Brazilian national team, but it was hard to find many reasons to blame the squad for this particular exit. Granted the execution of the penalty kicks was an aberration, but throughout the match Brazil were the better team and played some really attractive football.

Something that was picked up on by the media outside of Brazil was the percieved failure of the Seleção's two big rising stars Ganso and Neymar. The Santos duo were hyped-up greatly before the tournament, but both only managed to display brief flashes of the quality that they do possess. Although something that has to be kept in mind when talking about their performances is that their inclusion in this tournament was purely about integrating the two into the national side, giving them tournament experience that will be invaluable when that all-important 2014 World Cup comes around.

Another promise for the future, Lucas Moura of São Paulo, was brought into the side and I am not completely sure thats this tournament turned out to be a particularly positive experience for him. Personally, I share the somewhat unpopular view that he should not have been in the squad for this tournament, instead he would have been better suited going to the U-20 World Cup in Colombia next month. There, Lucas would have been the main man in attack and the experience of leading that team would have been considerably more useful for him as opposed to some frustrating minutes off the bench for the senior side.

But it is back to business as usual for Mano Menezes and this Brazil side. As I write, the squad for Brazil's upcoming friendly against Germany has just been announced with six of the Copa América squad cut, and Brazilian eyes are all firmly fixed on the big party in 2014.


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