Brazil 3 Belarus 1 Player Ratings
A few very quick thoughts on the game:
1. Rough count coming up, and apologies if I get my stats wrong. Of the 11 goals Brazil has conceded since June (1 against Denmark, 1vs USA, 2 vs Mexico, 4 vs Argentina, 2 vs Egypt and 1 vs Belarus) 5 goals have come from the opposing team stretching the play, getting down the flanks and either overlapping our fullbacks and crossing or taking advantage of shoddy off-ball marking by quickly switching the point of attack from right to left. It’s clearly a problem, and even Mano noticed it, declaring yesterday that both fullbacks have to stop advancing at the same time. Both fullbacks also need to be much better at recognizing players off the ball who are threatening to occupy dangerous positions on the pitch.
2. Brazil’s attack was fairly stagnant in the 1st half. The second half was better, mostly due to Oscar’s movement and Neymar growing into the game by attacking far more aggressively off his first touch, which was probably the single biggest difference.
Belarus put 10 men behind the ball and looked to pack the box, giving Brazil a familiar dilemma – how to maintain possession and protect against the counter attack while simultaneously breaking down the opponent’s defense? We’ve had two self-inflicted issues against such opponents. The first is that our passing and our movement are both too slow. We can stroke the ball around and attempt neat little one-two’s, but they rarely come off because the defense is already prepared for them.
The second is a lack of width, which I’ve written about at length.
Against Belarus, especially in the first half, the first problem was definitely apparent. We kept possession effortlessly, but did little with it. The US color commentator – whose name I didn’t catch, though I gathered that he once played with Pele for the Cosmos – made a very intelligent comment that Brazil kept playing the ball to their teammates’ feet, rather than into space. It was true. Almost every pass was made to a teammate’s feet, usually with the receiver’s back to goal, which is easy to defend against. The ball might move around, but it never forces the DEFENDERS to move. This is mainly solved by aggressive off-ball movement and quicker passing, but neither really happened. Our only variation was trying to play the ball through the air, but against packed defenses, that’s extremely hard to do – it requires basically a perfect pass. Neymar was able to come up with one to level the score, but most of the time our attempts didn’t come off.
The other classic problem, a failure to generate width, was surprisingly not an issue. In fact, it was probably one of the best matches Brazil has ever had at creating width. Both Marcelo and Rafael looked to overlap Neymar and Hulk respectively, and the latter two players relied on “cutting-in” far less than usual and attempted to get to the goal line to send in crosses – especially Hulk. Neymar and Oscar also did a good job of trying to switch the point of attack by sending the ball from one flank to the other, in an attempt to force the defense to switch over, moving them out of position. It never really worked, but it was definitely the right idea.
Unfortunately, while Brazil tried to do the right thing tactically, as far as width is concerned, their execution too often let them down, with most of our crosses over hit or easily cut out. Rafael was especially at fault here.
Luckily the individual brilliance of Neymar and, to a lesser extent, Oscar, helped save the day, but I was pleased to see Brazil at least making the attempt to solve the problem of breaking down a packed defense different than their constant attempts to play down the middle like they did in the Copa America.
3) Mano reverted back to his standard 4-2-3-1, with Neymar once again stationed primarily on the left wing and Hulk on the right.
Now onto player ratings:
Neto – 6.0
Did not have much to do. Had one nervy moment in the 2nd half when a shot drifted near the far post, but was able to punch it away. Can’t really be blamed for the goal, though I thought Rafael at least would have made a better attempt to get a finger to the ball.
Rafael – 5.5
Was at major fault for the goal, completely failing to mark Bressan. Did try to get involved in the attack, but his crosses were wayward all day.
Thiago Silva – 7.5
This was a MUCH classier display than against Egypt. His calmness on the ball, even when deep in his own half with an opponent bearing down on him, is just a sight to see. He almost never panics, never just mindlessly boots the ball forward, but instead relies on his body and his technique to shield the opponent off the ball, turn, and then fire off an accurate pass to either Rafael, Sandro, or Juan. I hope everyone here appreciates that ability because it’s not as common as you might think.
Juan – 6.5
One of his better displays for Brazil for sure – his defense in 1v1 situations was much improved from past outings, especially later on in the 2nd half. His passing was also better than what you’d expect.
Marcelo – 6.0
Didn’t offer much in the attack, and had some culpability in Belarus’ goal. But thereafter was solid enough.
Romulo – 6.5
Another neat, unfussy, unspectacular display.
Sandro – 6.5
Much better than his awful outing against Egypt. More aggressive in moving around the pitch to either cover the fullbacks or to intercept passes. Made a couple nifty runs forward as well. Much more like the Sandro we know he can be.
Neymar – 8.0
His pinpoint pass in the 1st half was a joy to behold, but other than that I was rather frustrated with him at first. Stationed on the left wing again, he consistently slowed down the attack by receiving the ball flat footed, then either standing over the ball or walking it for a few paces before attempting to do anything with it. (His aerial passing was excellent, though.) In the 2nd half he turned it on much more, by attacking the defense immediately off the first touch, which allowed him to bypass defenders much more easily. Went on several blistering runs deep into the box, one of which in particular was truly spectacular. He needs to work on getting his shot off quicker, though, because there were a couple moments where he could have shot, and maybe scored, but instead elected to try and win just a BIT more space. That usually just resulted in him missing his chance.
Still, be brought the goods when it mattered, scoring with a glorious free kick (with his right foot, when a left-footed shot seemed the better decision, no less) and his final run-and-backheel to Oscar was the kind of thing that make Nike executives jump for joy. Most jawdropping of all, though, was his nutmeg to start the run. I’ve never seen a player nutmeg another with his head before – but Neymar did it yesterday.
Ultimately, 1 goal and 2 assists marked one of Neymar’s best performances in a Brazil shirt to date.
Oscar – 7.5
A bit subdued of a performance compared to his recent outings, but still cool and classy when on the ball. I continue to marvel at his ability to hold off or evade defenders with simple turns, despite his slight frame. He was looking for his shot more in this game than I can ever remember. Grew into the game in the 2nd half, mostly thanks to his movement, allowing him to up the tempo of the match. Scored a deserved goal with a sublime finish in the dying moments. The only thing preventing a higher score was that he misplaced 4 or 5 routine passes yesterday, which is 4 or 5 more than he’s done in any of his other matches since June. Still, what a player he is turning out to be.
Hulk – 6.5
Back on the right wing, he was probably Brazil’s best attacker in the first half, though the final product was a bit lacking. Faded in the 2nd half as the attack moved over primarily to Neymar’s wing.
Pato – 6.5
Give him good credit for his goal, which was more about how he aggressively attacked the open space than the header itself. But thereafter, he offered very little. It wasn’t really the right type of game for him. He needs space to operate, something of which there was little. I really didn’t understand Mano’s decision to start him, though ultimately it was justified. Pato would have made far more sense against Egypt, or Argentina, or Mexico, where the tempo was faster, there was more space, and Brazil had more opportunities to break. In those types of matches, his pace and mobility would have served him well in tandem with Neymar and Hulk. But against a packed defense like Belarus, Damiao would have probably looked much better. With the game played at much slower rhythm, a center forward who could play with his back to goal would have made a far more valuable reference point. And with more crosses attempted in this game than in most others, Damiao’s height would have been valuable, especially as a lot of crosses just sailed over Pato’s head.
Oh well. In the end, Damiao scored against Egypt, and Pato scored against Belarus, so all’s well that ends well. Even if it would have made sense to swap them.
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