Brazil 3 Egypt 2 Player Ratings
A victory for Brazil, but the match leaves more questions than answers as Brazil flattered to deceive in the first half, than nearly fell apart in the 2nd.
It’s hard to know just what exactly to take away from this match – or at least, it’s hard to know if there’s anything new to take away. Mostly I felt the match confirmed things we already knew about the team and about individual players. But I feel like to truly get a handle on what this team is or can be will have to wait to the knockout stages – assuming Brazil gets there.
As a general rule, I don’t usually trust too much what I see in the first round of a tournament – either positive or negative. Good, recent examples would be the first match of the 2007 Copa America or 2009 Confederations Cup. In the former, Brazil lost 2-0 to Mexico, and it was a bad 2-0…aside from the quarterfinal against the Netherlands three years later, when we gave up to goals off of set pieces, I don’t think I’d ever seen a more un-Dunga like performance. If there was one thing that Dunga’s team was, it was organized, but against Mexico we looked extremely disorganized, especially in the first half.
The same was true against Egypt in the 2009 Copa America. While Juan and Gilberto Silva were both defensive stalwarts, both were in absolutely godawful form to start the tournament, and the team as a whole looked very shaky.
In both tournaments, Brazil eventually grew into it and played the way you would expect them to. I don’t mean the way Nike expected them too, but the way we’d expect a Dunga team too, meaning organized, disciplined and ruthless, with a clear game-plan in mind.
So what does that have to do with today’s match? No, I’m not predicting Brazil to go on and win the tournament – though I’m certainly not ruling it out, either – but the point is, the first match of a competition is often not a good indicator of future play.
I thought Brazil looked extremely nervous all throughout the match. Their 20 minute stretch where they scored three goals was clinical and effective, but the 2nd and 3rd goals were also helped by some extremely sloppy defending from Egypt. But before and after the goals, Brazil looked very edgy. Large chunks of possession were given away, heavy touches abounded, and the communication on defense was, to put it simply, abysmal. It was the worst Brazil have looked defending as a unit since the Bosnia match at the beginning of this year. It was even worse than against Argentina. In that match, Messi preyed on an inexperienced centerback combo, but Argentina as a whole didn’t enjoy as much time in Brazil’s final third as Egypt did.
That’s why I’m not sure what to make of this match yet as far as the TEAM is concerned. We’ll need to wait at least another game or two before deciding whether this was just a case of early nerves (as I believe it was, and as I believe 2007 and 2009 were) or the standard we can expect in tournament play. It should be remembered that this was the first competitive match that Leandro Damiao, Hulk, Oscar, Romulo, Juan and Rafael have played in for Brazil. It was also the first competitive start Sandro’s ever had, and the first cap ever for Neto. So nerves are understandable…as long as you can get over them quickly.
There are, however, some clear takeaways from the individual players, because most of the performances tonight confirmed what we already knew. So without further ado…
Neto – 5.5
Couldn’t really be blamed for either goal, but from the very start he looked overwhelmed by the occasion. Almost gave away a goal when he completely botched a simple back-pass; slapped away at another ball when it would have been easier to catch it; and there was one moment in the second half where the camera focused on his face and he looked visibly afraid. One wonders whether Rafael Cabral’s injury was part of the reason the back line looked so shaken from the word go. With a completely untried keeper behind them, even Thiago Silva seemed ill at ease, unsure of whether to trust the kid between the sticks to hold his own
Still, Neto was thrown into the lion’s den. Getting your first competitive start for the Brazilian national team is overwhelming for anybody; getting your first cap PERIOD in the first match of an international tournament is even worse. I’d much prefer Gabriel to start, who has always looked fearless when playing at youth level, but Neto may yet surprise us if given the chance. He’s been thrown head first into the water; only time will tell if he can swim. He deserves another chance.
Rafael – 6.5
Probably the pick of a bad lot as far as the defense is concerned. He kept his part of the pitch mostly quiet, and in the first half especially was efficient in the attack, often looking to combine and overlap with Oscar on the right wing. His goal took a slight deflection, but his composure on the ball was admirable. He went on one or two storming runs after that, too. I don’t think he’s that fantastic of a talent, but I’ve got no complaints so far.
Thiago Silva – 6.0
Maybe Thiago Silva’s most uninspiring performance for the national team. Actually, make that second most uninspiring – the first match against Paraguay last year was even worse. For someone who reads the game extremely well, Thiago Silva often looked uncertain today, probably because of who was playing beside him and behind. He had several botched clearances, including one that led to the first goal, and he was very slow to help on the second. He did look excellent when on the ball, however, and his passing out of the back was very good.
I’m not worried about him. One does not worry unduly about the greatest centerback in the world.
Juan – 5.0
Another day, another godawful performance from the worst centerback to don the yellow shirt that I’ve ever seen. He makes Roque Junior look like Baresi. I counted multiple botched clearances, missed interceptions, and so many moments of backpedaling hesitation that I can’t even begin to count them all. He had no clue what to do when defending the second goal. Really, aside from being beefy, I don’t know what either Mano or Ney Franco see in him. He was miserable at youth level, and he’s miserable now.
Marcelo – 5.0
Today was Marcelo at his worst. He was fortunate not to be exposed in the first half too much, but he was repeatedly bamboozled in the 2nd by Saleh’s movement. Frequently caught both flat-footed and out of position, Marcelo can sometimes make up for it by being an above-average tackler. Not today. The left wing was basically a gaping hole all match, and he was complicit in Egypt’s 2nd goal. To make matters worse, he offered very little in the attack, either. His one chance came in the 2nd half when he could have gift-wrapped a goal for Pato, but his cross was poor and just out of reach. Gets my vote for flop of the match.
Sandro – 5.5
Marcelo may have been the flop of the match, but Sandro was the player I was most disappointed in. I’m a fan of Sandro’s, generally, but he really can do better. At his peak, like against Milan in the Champion’s League two years ago, he is a whirlwind in the center of the pitch, constantly breaking up attacks. But today, he was a hesitant, flat-footed mess. For someone who is supposed to be a destroyer, he did very little destroying. A good defensive midfielder has to be able to read the opponent and anticipate their moves – this is how you break up attacks in the midfield. Really, what I wanted to see was Sandro play with a bit more abandon, but he was cautious to the point of timidity. Every time he backpedaled rather than pressed, every time he tried to cover a spot on the pitch rather than attempt an interception or a tackle, all he did was shield and confuse the centerbacks behind him. When your defensive midfielder consistently backpedals, it leaves your centerbacks in the lurch, because they don’t know what to do. Will Sandro keep dropping back, they wonder? Should I move to another position, then? Should I come up to help him? Sandro was reactive rather than aggressive today, and it forced his fellow defenders to be reactive to, because they were always having to adjust to him. Sandro’s one true saving grace today was that he looked imperious in the air, winning most of the aerial balls that came his way.
Lucas Leiva has been out for a year. Fernando Reges is in the wilderness. Luis Gustavo failed to impress when given his shot. Sandro has had an extended opportunity to really claim a spot in the Selecao. He’s done enough to keep himself in the discussion, but he hasn’t done enough to end it.
Romulo – 6.0
After putting in his best stint against Team GB last week, Romulo faded back into relative anonymity. He made no major mistakes, but made no major contributions, either. His biggest problem may be his well-roundedness. He’s a good defender, but not a great one. He’s an okay passer, but not a great one. He’s got decent movement, but it’s nothing to write home about.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much in the long run. He’s just keeping Fernandinho’s seat warm.
Oscar – 7.5
My MotM. He would have scored higher, but he faded pretty badly in the 2nd half. That said, so did everyone else. His first half was pure gold. Pure class on the ball, excellent composure, good movement, simple but efficient passes, simple but efficient dribbles (like his one to free up space to pass to Rafael for the first goal) and he showed off his work rate when tracking the ball that led to Damiao’s goal. He’s played six sterling matches in a row now. I don’t think ANYONE has been so consistently good for Brazil since Luis Fabiano in 2009.
Neymar – 7.0
“The evil that men do lives after them,” Shakespeare said. “The good is oft interred with their bones.”
So it is with Neymar. Really, he’s just a victim of the absurd hype he’s gotten. He may never be rated properly in his life as a result. Reading other articles around the web, I’ve seen him go in for all sorts of criticism, especially from English writers. I’ve even seen the word “donkey” banded about.
His movement around the pitch resulted in a greater volume of touches than probably anyone else, which means you put his game under a microscope. He missed one decent chance early on, but then was brilliant to get his third, drawing FOUR defenders around him before slipping a diagonal ball through to Hulk and then continuing his run, finishing off with a solid header. In the first half especially he routinely drew attention and then laid off to either Hulk or Marcelo on the flank to try and stretch the cover. He was the center of numerous counter attacks, and was probably the only attacker in the 2nd half to offer any sort of a threat at all.
The big question about Neymar in this match, as in many others before him, is this: Is he selfish? As proof, the prosecution offers Exhibit A, the fact that he allegedly failed to pass to Damiao, Pato or Hulk when on the counter attack on a consistent basis.
The defense rebuts by pointing out that this isn’t really true. I’ll have to watch the match again to give you a true count, but my notes say that on numerous occasions, he DID pass to those players…IF they were diagonal from him. Many, many times he would slip balls diagonally rather than keep it, like one would expect him too. This is conservative but usually the correct play. It’s the percentage play.
I remember two occasions off the top of my head when he DID try and slip vertical through-balls ahead to Damiao. On both occasions they were cut out. And while, yes, there were occasions that Neymar DIDN’T pass when on the break, or at least not soon enough, I don’t believe it was due to selfishness. Why? Because his head was up the whole time, and because he DID try to pass on some occasions. Generally, when you want to be selfish, you play with your head DOWN, because you are focused solely on getting to goal. Neymar didn’t do that. No, what I think is that Neymar is simply uncomfortable trying to slip through-balls while on the run. Why? Timing. It requires perfect timing. Timing with the ball, timing the defense, timing the run of your teammate. It is NOT an easy thing to do, and it’s clear that Neymar can’t really do it yet. He did try, at least twice, but both times he didn’t get the timing right and his passes were cut out.
(Kaka and Fabiano were masters at this. Their chemistry was so good that they could time each other perfectly. But it requires enormous precision.)
As further proof, here’s Exhibit B:
In this video, Neymar has a good chance to slip in a vertical through-ball to Damiao, right at the 0:04 second mark. I don’t know if it would have worked, but he could have tried it. Instead, he dribbles to his left – not directly toward goal – and with his head up the entire time, slips the ball to the left to the onrushing Hulk. If he was selfish, he either would have tried to dribble through the defense or taken a shot two seconds earlier. We know he does that when he’s feeling selfish – remember early in the Barcelona match last year, when Neymar was in the almost exact same position, with Borges and Ganso nearby, and he decided to shoot from distance? And anyway, if you tell me that Neymar is just selfishly ignoring Damiao, someone he’s known to be good friends with, in favor of laying off to Hulk (which he did consistently all game, to a player he maybe doesn’t have the best relationship with) then I simply don’t believe you.
In any case, I’ve said enough about Neymar lately. I think he’s good. And I think he was good today. Sure, you can criticize individual decisions, but the evil that men do…
Hulk – 6.0+
Hulk had two particularly excellent moments, both in the first half. In the first he made a great run and then set up Neymar, who shot wide. The second was his lovely little ball right onto Neymar’s head – it was a gorgeous pass, perfectly weighted.
I thought he was very quiet for the rest of the match. It’s disappointing, because if anyone should be running rampant in this tournament, it’s Hulk. But he didn’t play with nearly the abandon he normally does, and I think the reason why lies in the way Mano is using him.
We all know that Hulk is an inverted winger by nature. What’s more, we all know that the inverted winger should no longer be considered the bastardization it once was – it’s a legitimate position with legitimate tactical implications. Some of the best players in the world are inverted wingers, or at least started out that way.
It’s obvious by now, however, that Mano has moved Hulk permanently over to the left. There are sound reasons why he should do this – it gives us more of a chance at creating true, genuine width, and it gives both Neymar and Oscar a bit more space and freedom. It’s to Hulk’s credit that he seems to have accepted this like a soldier, but it’s also rather unkind to him. Not only are you taking away his most dangerous move, which is cutting onto his left foot and firing away, but you are moving him into a zone to which he is not terribly comfortable. I think that’s the main reason Hulk has looked rather quiet lately. When you put a player into a new position, it forces him to THINK on the pitch instead of just playing by instinct. Hulk’s instinct is to storm down the right and either cut inside, or “fake” the cut and then storm to the goal line where he can then cut back or cross. But on the left, he always has to think about what he’s going to do. This is not just academic – the more you have to think and the more you have to fight your own tendencies, the slower your reactions and decisions will be.
So why the 6.0+ for Hulk? Because I don’t feel comfortable giving him a 6.0, considering he’s playing out of position and he got a great assist, but I also feel a bit uncomfortable giving him a 6.5 because he was quiet for long stretches. Ah, what the hell. I’ll give him a 6.5 anyway, just because I love watching him play.
Leandro Damiao – 6.5
Great to see him finally get on the board, with a good finish as well as providing the headed flick-on to Oscar who immediately returned the favor.
Other than that, though, he was pretty quiet again. I’m giving him the same benefit of the doubt as Hulk – the team isn’t making use of his best strengths. My notes show only ONE instance where the team passed him the ball with his back to goal, and as for crosses into the box, forget it. His third strength, breaking the offside trap, was negated because Egypt never tried to play it, and because there’s no one for Brazil except maybe Ganso who consistently attempt that sort of thing anyway. Oscar can do it, but he’ll never force it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of Damiao’s best moments have come when Fernandinho is starting – the two connect really well together.
On the other hand, he still looks a step slower than everyone else, and he could be a lot more aggressive with his movement off the ball, especially around the box. Zetona pointed this out the other night, so I took it upon myself to watch for it today. And it’s true – too often Damiao waits for the ball to come to him instead of moving into better space. I still haven’t seen anything to suggest he can’t play at this level – he always earns himself at least 1 to 2 great scoring chances a game – but he can’t wait for the team to adapt to him. He needs to do more to adapt himself to the team. What that means, exactly, I’m not sure.
One final note. Maybe the single worst aspect of this match was the complete lack of pressing. Seriously, what happened? It’s been the hallmark of the team since the Denmark match. But NO ONE really did it tonight – not Neymar, not Hulk, not Damiao. Even Oscar wasn’t quite as aggressive. Does it have to do with nerves? Why would nerves make a difference about whether you press or not? Did Mano instruct them not to? Why would he do that, since it’s been so effective lately?
Whatever the reason, none of the attacking players gave the defenders ANY help whatsoever (so maybe I should be docking .5 of a point from all of their grades). If they had, perhaps Sandro and Romulo would have done a little better. I sure hope it returns quickly though, because otherwise this could be a long tournament. With so many question marks in defense, Brazil’s best chance to keep a clean sheet is to keep possession of the ball. That will only happen if the attackers press.
Also, Mano, could you please do something about our team’s 2nd half doldrums? That would be great.
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