Tim Vickery Column: Brazil improving but will face stiff opposition in the form of Chile
Luiz Felipe Scolari has always said that he would prefer not to meet South American opposition in the 2014 knock out stages. Now he has no choice. Brazil’s part of the draw has turned into a mini Copa America, with a quarter final where the winners of Brazil against Chile take on the victors of Colombia versus Uruguay.
The second of those matches can wait. The immediate concern is Chile, a team walking with a swagger of confidence, despite Monday’s 2-0 loss to Holland. The Chileans are justified in thinking they have the best team in their history; a group of players have developed together, making the transition from promise to reality. And they are equipped with an idea, a philosophy of play implanted by Marcelo Bielsa and given continuity by Jorge Sampaoli.
Wherever the game, whoever the opponents, Chile seek to impose themselves on the match, playing high tempo football in the opponent’s half of the field, throwing both full backs forward in a constant quest to create two against one situations down the flanks. Given that Brazil are so often vulnerable in the space behind attacking full backs Daniel Alves and Marcelo, it promises to be an intriguing duel.
Brazil, whatever Scolari says in public, will consider themselves firm favourites. On the one hand they have tradition on their side; Chile’s World Cup campaigns of 1962, 1998 and 2010 all ended when they came up against Brazil. From a local perspective it is hard to believe that the five times world champions can lose at home to a country that has never even won the Copa America.
And also there is the hope that Chile’s aggressive style might play into the hands of Brazilian strengths. The two goals Chile conceded against Holland are a case in point. The first came from a set piece, when Chile’s lack of defensive height was exposed. The second was the result of a swift counter-attack, a risk Chile always run by pushing up so high. Given Brazil’s potency from set pieces and counter-attacks, there should be opportunities for Neymar and company.
Neymar, of course, added two more goals to his collection on Monday against Cameroon. Chile’s plan will clearly be to strangle his supply line, to win the midfield battle so that the ball does not reach Brazil’s number ten in areas of the pitch where he can cause problems - ie the entire opposition half. There were times in the first half against Cameroon when Brazil’s midfield duo of Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho were outnumbered by three opposing players. The Africans won control of midfield for a while and began to be able to slip the ball into those vulnerable spaces behind the full backs. Matters improved after the interval with the introduction of Fernandinho, who must be a candidate to start Saturday’s game in place of Paulinho. Some of this may have been the result of Cameroon running out of gas, but the role played by the Manchester City midfielder in Brazil’s final two goals – giving a fine pass for one and scoring the other – surely caught the eye.
Scolari probably took more pleasure from these goals than he did from Neymar’s memorable first half pair. Neymar’s brilliance is a given in this team. Indeed, it is hard to imagine Brazil winning the World Cup without their number ten playing the starring role. Goal number three was the first in the tournament for under-pressure centre forward Fred. And goal number four may even have been even more important, not least because it happened after Neymar had been substituted.
Oscar won the ball by snapping into a tackle close to the edge of the Cameroon area. He played centrally into Fred, whose sharp return ball was neatly laid off by Oscar into the path of Fernandinho, who scored with a poke finish across the keeper.
It was a goal filled with memories of last year’s triumphant Confederations Cup campaign; the high press, the little partnerships, the centre forward proficient at linking the play with his back to goal, the midfielder capable of bursting beyond the strikers to shoot at goal – except this time it was Fernandinho rather than Paulinho, a nod towards the future as Brazil seek to build momentum en route to winning the big prize.