The prospect of Brazil not qualifying for the World Cup is real
Put simply, Brazil have regressed whilst other nations, such as Chile, Colombia and even Ecuador, who sit second in the qualifying table, have improved. The quality has compressed and though a last gasp fightback for a point in Asuncion was welcome, Dunga’s side still face an uphill task to qualify for Russia 2018. Argentina and Colombia appear to have pulled themselves together after poor starts to their respective campaigns.
Uruguay have Luis Suarez back and currently sit at the top of the table, whilst Copa America winners Chile boast their best squad in over half a century. The good news for Dunga is that Brazil have already played in Santiago, Buenos Aires and Asuncion (in the latter city, they remain winless for 31 years and counting). Ecuador’s flying start has been tempered, as they took just a single point from this round of matches. With 12 qualifiers remaining, there is time for Brazil to elevate their current position.
However, they have only managed to beat lowly Peru and Venezuela at home so far in qualifying. The Seleção’s stock in their homeland could not be lower, with Dunga probably sitting narrowly behind Dilma as the least popular person in Brazil. Against Paraguay, the team looked directionless for 80 minutes. Disorganised at the back and grateful for the interventions of goalkeeper Alisson, who prevented the home side from taking an even more commanding lead.
Neymar has not been in especially good form for Brazil for the last 12 months, overburdened and over eager to take on too much. But without him, the team lacked attacking cohesion. It was only when Paraguay decided to cease their counter attacking game and sit on their lead that Brazil looked imposing going forward. Brazil deserve credit for their fightback, but it was only desperation and fatigue from the hosts that won them a crucial point.
DUNGA NEEDS TO HARNESS HIS CREATIVE PLAYERS
A midfield trio of Renato Augusto, Fernandinho and Luiz Gustavo lacked creativity and this made it easy for Paraguay to suffocate Brazil’s attacks. Dunga banked on Willian and Douglas Costa to provide the spark and create for Ricardo Oliveira upfront. The lack of diversity in this tactic was easily exposed by Paraguay, who simply crowded the wide men out and starved Oliveira of service.
It wasn’t until Lucas Lima came on that the away side could diversify their limp attacks. His first contribution was to play a defence splitting pass for Oliveira, who unfortunately slipped at the vital moment. Brazil eventually made gains from wide through their equaliser, with Alves providing an overload for Willian. That they were finally able to build a successful attack from wide was partly due to Paraguay’s tiredness, but also because Brazil finally had creativity in the centre of the pitch.
Oliveira’s goal came as a result of patient build up play through the centre, breaking the lines of Paraguay’s relenting pressure. With players such as Philippe Coutinho, Oscar and Lucas Lima on the bench, Dunga had plenty of creativity available to him, but elected not to use it. Willian and Costa are very effective players, but if you’re playing a team that is prepared to let you have plenty of the ball, it pays to select players that can use it thoughtfully.
Dunga’s defence needs work
Given that the coach seems intent on continuing his feud with Thiago Silva, he has to come up with a more cohesive defensive solution. David Luiz and Thiago Silva are flawed as individuals, but make a formidable partnership. Their respective struggles in the Canary shirt have arisen in solitary, when the combination has been ruptured. Miranda is a good centre half, but he seems to lack the leadership skills to hold the back line together.
Dunga has been reticent to look to the future in defence, with the likes of Alex Sandro, Marquinhos and Danilo steadfastly unused, whilst Filipe Luis, Miranda and Dani Alves remain. All are experienced players and every defence needs a measure of knowhow, but the unit did not exude any sort of cohesion or authority. Luiz Gustavo and Fernandinho struggled to work in tandem to protect them. Paraguay found it far too easy to pull Brazil’s defence around.
Even with Lucio assisting the coaching staff for this round of qualifiers, the Seleção back line looked disorganised. Thiago Silva and David Luiz also have the advantage of playing together at club level, leaving less work for Dunga to do on the training pitch. He seems reluctant to reignite that partnership, but also doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of how to remould the back line. He is certainly not looking too far into the future in that respect, either.