Tim Vickery Column- Scolari may turn to Ramires for stability against Mexico
If Hulk is not fit to take the field for Brazil’s game against Mexico, then Ramires is his natural substitute. And even if Hulk is fit, a case could be made for replacing him with Ramires – which would entail a slight tweak of the system
Ramires is not a natural fit into coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s customary 4-2-3-1 formation, as a poor 45 minutes in the warm up match against Panama made abundantly clear. He is a runner with the ball, without the range of passing to play as one of the central midfield two, and not considered sufficiently skilful in restricted spaces to compete for a place in the line of three. This is one of the reasons (there was apparently also some kind of disciplinary problem) for his omission from last year’s Confederations Cup squad.
Brazil did not much more than win the trophy in that tournament. They won over their fans all over the country, and, crucially, settled upon an identity, an idea of play – which had seemed so elusive in the early months of Scolari’s reign, and had been identified by the coaching staff as the biggest problem facing Brazil’s bid to win the World Cup.
In the course of June 2013, then, Scolari found his team – and is so satisfied with it that it remains his favoured first team selection. One this was in place, he was able to use the friendlies after the Confederations Cup to look at options and variations – and the first one involved the recall of Ramires.
In last September’s matches against Australia and Portugal, Ramires came into the team in place of Hulk, and rather than the 4-2-3-1, Brazil lined up in a more conventional 4-3-3, with the Chelsea man and Paulinho either side of Luiz Gustavo. It was an immediate success; Australia were thrashed 6-0, and after giving away a silly goal against Portugal, Brazil hit back to win 3-1.
The variation, then, was firmly in Brazil’s locker, and has been used again in subsequent matches, often as a switch made during the game, with Ramires coming off the bench to replace Hulk.
The reason that Scolari may be considering this for the Mexico game, regardless of the injury to Hulk, has to do with the characteristics of both sides in Tuesday’s showdown. Brazil are at their most vulnerable in the space behind the full backs – a defect that was immediately apparent in the World Cup opener against Croatia. And Mexico look to attack down the flanks, with wing backs Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layun quick to break forward, Giovani Dos Santos always looking to drift out wide, and midfielders Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado also capable of delivering dangerous balls into the box from these spaces. The addition of Ramires would tighten up Brazil against this threat – and give Daniel Alves some defensive help which, on the evidence of the Croatia match, looks very necessary.