Olympic Final: Brazil vs Mexico
Today is the day. For the first time in 24 years, Brazil will have a shot at winning the one major title that’s eluded them: the Olympic Gold Medal.
Standing in their path is the team that is second only to France in generally being a pain in Brazil’s ass. That would be Mexico. Brazil leads the all-time record with Mexico 11 to 8, with 2 draws, but in recent years Mexico has beaten Brazil twice in the Confederations Cup (including the ‘99 final) and twice in the Copa America, in 2001 and 2007, along with three victories in the Gold Cup. So El Tricolor usually provide pretty staunch opposition for the A Seleção.
For the match, it looks like Mano will retain the same lineup that started so abysmally versus South Korea:
CB: Thiago Silva, Juan
LW: Alex Sandro
F: Neymar, Leandro Damiao
I continue to question Alex Sandro’s place in this side. While I think Alex Sandro is nice enough, I think that, with the exception of Juan, he is clearly the least developed player in this lineup and offers the least tangible skills. Some readers have suggested, and I agree, that his inclusion is probably to provide cover to Marcelo, which makes some sense, but on the other hand against South Korea it left a gaping hole on the right, both in terms of defense and in the attack. While some here have questioned Hulk’s balls retention skills, I would argue that Hulk has actually played a huge part in Brazil’s improved possession game since Mano started using him regularly in the first friendly against Mexico last year. That pretty much marked the moment, in my mind, when Brazil started routinely winning the possession game. Prior to that, we had struggled enormously even against minnows like Romania. But while Hulk is sometimes guilty of having a heavy first touch, and while his dribbling hasn’t been at its best in this tournament, Hulk is a fantastic runner with the ball, and most importantly by being able to move out to the wing like he does, he creates passing angles for the central midfielders to utilize. Open passing angles are just as important in keeping possession as actually being able to pass, or dribble, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that since Hulk started getting consistent playing time late last year that Brazil’s midfield began to noticeably improve.
But in any case, Hulk will probably start from the bench and Alex Sandro will be amazed at his good fortune. Meanwhile, I’m left wondering why Mano is only now starting to worry about protecting his flanks. If he felt it such an issue (and in fairness, it is) then he should have just left Hulk at home and picked an overage CB.
I’m feeling 50/50 about the match. Brazil is more dynamic then Mexico and has more firepower, but in the past two matches we’ve been knocked back on our heels by lesser teams who are playing with nothing to lose. I’m concerned the same will happen tomorrow – Brazil will come out feeling a bit edgy and impatient. They’ll probably want to score a quick goal, which means overusing the long ball. And all of that combined might mean that Mexico dominates the midfield like South Korea did early on.
Still, if Brazil can weather the early storm and allow themselves to grow into the match, they’ve got enough talent, enough motivation, and enough cohesiveness (relatively speaking) to win.
Good luck, Neymar and co! Go out and win the gold for all the generations that couldn’t. And please wear your blue shorts tomorrow.
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