Scolari's Brazil begin to take shape
Following the chopping and changing of recent years, Brazil appear to have found an equilibrium at the Confederations Cup, where they surged through the group phase to reach the semi-finals.
- Published: 24/06/2013 at 12:49 AM
- Newspaper section: news
Brazil's coach Luiz Felipe Scolari (L) and forward Neymar are pictured during a training session in Fortaleza, northeastern Brazil, on the eve of their FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Group A football match against Mexico, on June 18, 2013.
Although Saturday's gripping 4-2 defeat of Italy had no sporting significance, both sides having already qualified, it confirmed Brazil's progress after two straightforward wins over Japan (3-0) and Mexico (2-0).
Signs of the revival were first glimpsed in the hosts' final two pre-tournament warm-up games: a 2-2 draw with England and a 3-0 success over France.
By beating France and Italy, who were admittedly weakened by fatigue and the absence through injury of Andrea Pirlo, Brazil finally secured the victories over top-rank nations that had eluded them in recent times.
Luiz Felipe Scolari's first priority, upon returning to coach the team for a second time last November, was to firm up his defence.
"We're progressing a lot in terms of marking. It doesn't worry me as much as it did three or four months ago," he said after the victory over Mexico.
His captain, Thiago Silva, had also expressed concerns over the Selecao's defensive robustness.
Speaking prior to the game with France earlier this month, he said: "I'd be lying if I said that it doesn't worry us.
"If we can win all our matches 1-0, without conceding, I'd take it. Our game needs more balance."
After several experiments, some involving former stalwarts such as Ronaldinho, Kaka and Luis Fabiano, Scolari appears to have settled on a first-choice starting XI.
Key is the predominantly defensive central midfield pairing of Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho, with the more forward-thinking Hernanes occasionally brought in.
Scolari has instilled tactical discipline into the team, although Neymar is still granted a certain degree of freedom.
If the forward has occasionally been over-zealous in his efforts to help out in midfield, committing 31 fouls in three matches, he has produced the goods at the right end of the pitch.
Despite the huge weight of expectation created by the number 10 shirt on his back and his $75.3 million (57 million euros) transfer to Barcelona, the 21-year-old has lived up to his billing.
Allying explosive style with match-winning efficiency, Neymar has received three man-of-the-match awards and has autographed each performance with a memorable goal.
Initially targeted by the protesters who have flocked into the streets during the tournament ('A teacher is worth more than Neymar!' was one chant), he has successfully aligned himself with the popular cause and his on-pitch displays even urged Scolari to proclaim him a "genius".
Explaining the understanding he has with his attacking colleagues, Neymar said: "Changing positions is very important for the whole team. We work on it a lot in training. It enables you to drive your opponents mad."
Hulk, on the right flank, has been a constant menace and Fred ended his poor recent scoring run with a predatory second-half double against Italy. Only Chelsea playmaker Oscar has failed to hit the heights so far.
The two full-backs are heavily involved in the team's attacking play, Marcelo by driving into the centre and Dani Alves by over-lapping on the right.
Against Italy, the former was at the origin of three goals: two for his team, and one against, after Italy midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini exploited the space left by the Real Madrid man's forward forays to score.
Scolari seems willing to accept such risks.
"I think Brazil arrive ready for the semi-finals," he said, although he warned that the team was not yet "ready for the World Cup".
Nonetheless, they appear to have found the right path.
About the author
- Writer: AFP
- Position: News agency