The Selecao have looked a shadow of their usual selves in their two World Cup games so far.
To those who tuned in the television to watch Brazil take on Costa Rica, it was nothing short of a tedious affair. A listless first half with neither team being able to take the game beyond the midfield, was followed by a second half that was equally exhausting.
The Selecao upped the ante, but were still unable to find the killer pass thanks to a combination of poor gameplay and some spectacular Keylor Navas saves. In the end, the deadlock was broken by a Philippe Coutinho toe-poke goal and Neymar added some gloss to it right at the end, but for most of the 90 minutes, it was like watching paint dry.
A tragic punishment. But why exactly did it turn out that way?
The elements were all there. Following the draw against Switzerland in the opening game, the stage was set for the Samba Boys to make their mark. Neymar, who had picked up a knock during training, was back and raring to go. Shocking defeats for Germany and Argentina had given the perfect morale boost to the Men In Yellow. They had to unleash their wrath on the group’s supposed punch bags.
But it all went haywire.
First off, it started with Tite, the manager naming the same XI as the Switzerland game. Benching both Roberto Firmino and Douglas Costa and starting Paulinho in midfield again was a strategy that was bound to backfire and that is exactly what happened.
With Casemiro playing deep and Paulinho unable to provide a supply line to the forwards, Coutinho kept dropping deep to perform the role of a box-to-box midfielder. That slowed down the attack immeasurably, over and over again. Moreover, Willian’s lack of imagination on the right wing meant that just like the previous match, all the offensive moves were restricted to the left side of the pitch. With Fagner being a defensive-minded right-back, it was of no surprise that Brazil’s attack looked so one-dimensioned far too many times.
After the break, the awful Willian was hauled off and Costa was subbed in. That helped the 5-time champions to increase the tempo, but the problem in midfield still persisted. Apart from a Gabriel Jesus header that ricocheted off the woodwork and some out-of-the-box shots from Coutinho and Neymar, the score was still tied at 0-0. That was when Firmino was bought on for Paulinho and the game changed.
The Liverpool forward has been prolific for his club this season and he showed just why he is rated so highly. With two strikers on the pitch, Brazil looked a lot more threatening and it was he who headed a Marcelo cross back into the box for his ex-teammate Coutinho to poke it home. Another substitute, Costa was central in setting up the second goal and ensuring no late drama would occur.
The game ended 2-0 and Brazil ran out as winners, perhaps deservingly so. It seems likely that they will end the group as winners, but it is difficult to see how far they can go with such a pedestrian approach. It’s time for Tite to take some hard decisions and make some much-needed personnel changes to the side that has some of the biggest names in world football.
Jesus is not ready to act as the fulcrum of the attack yet, Paulinho does not have the passing range a central midfielder in a Brazilian team requires and Willian is nothing more than a limited, one-trick pony who cannot be relied on in the really big games.
An ideal Brazil XI would look like this ( 4-3-3):
Goal Keeper: Alisson
Midfield: Casemiro, Fred/Renato Augusto, Coutinho
Attack: Neymar, Firmino, Douglas Costa
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the team is still waiting for Neymar to hit his strides which would probably take one or two more games. Until then, Tite has to ensure that against better opposition, his side does not continue to appear so lacklustre.
Brazil have always entertained the audience and while this team may not have the skill and fluidity of it’s illustrious predecessors, it can and should be tuned to perform at its best. With bigger games coming up, the real Brazil must step up if they are to win the “Hexa”.