Brazil 2 Colombia 1
Tite opted for the same team that consummately defeated Ecuador in Quito last Thursday. Off the ball, Brazil broadly lined up in a 4-1-4-1 shape, but in reality there was some flux within that structure. Neymar was basically a forward starting from the left, with Renato Augusto covering the flank as the Barcelona man wandered in field. Casemiro anchored the midfield and did a superb job of keeping club mate James Rodriguez quiet.
The Seleção got off to a dream start when João Miranda headed Neymar’s corner home inside 90 seconds. Brazil dominated possession, territory and created threatening openings. David Ospina, who was partially at fault for Miranda’s goal, got down smartly to beat away efforts from Neymar and Renato Augusto. Paulinho had the ball in the net from a gilded Neymar through ball, but the eagle eyed referee spotted that he palmed the ball into the goal and booked the ex-Spurs midfielder for his trouble.
On the rare occasions that the three players orbiting Carlos Bacca in the Colombia attack- Muriel, Torres and James- got close to the ball, Casemiro, Renato Augusto and Paulinho smothered them in concert, like a three pronged fire blanket. Colombia struggled to take a foothold in the game but scored an equaliser against the run of play shortly before half time. James’ devilish free-kick glanced into the corner of the net via the hairline of Marquinhos.
While Neymar tested Ospina shortly after the restart, the goal did arrest the tempest at Brazil’s sails. The home side continued to dominate possession, but looked short on ideas at the beginning of the second half. Undoubtedly Brazil’s best performer in 2015, Willian has looked a little lost in Tite’s first two games in charge. The new manager likes his wingers to tuck inside and influence the game centrally, as Jádson did so adroitly in Corinthians’ 2015 title winning side.
Under Dunga, Willian played more as a wide forward, but under Tite he is expected to tuck in and play more like a midfielder. As in Quito, Willian was replaced by Philippe Coutinho after 65 underwhelming minutes and as it was in Ecuador, the Liverpool man made a difference. Last week, his difference was more structural, but he produced something more tangible in Manaus, providing a neat assist for the winning goal.
Fellow substitute Guiliano forced Carlos Sanchez into a turnover high up the pitch, Coutinho pushed the loose ball wide to Neymar and the Barca man lashed the ball across Ospina and into the corner with his left foot. The goal moves Neymar level with Zico in 4th place on the Seleção’s all-time goal scorers list. An impressive feat for a 24 year old. Only Romário, Ronaldo and Pelé look down upon him now.
The central involvement that saw Coutinho create the winner is made for the Liverpool man in a way that it is not for Willian. It will be fascinating to see whether Willian keeps his place in the starting line-up in October, especially with Douglas Costa expected to return before then. Coutinho went bursting through the middle minutes after the goal too and really ought to have set Neymar up for a tap in, but opted for a shot that was deflected behind for a corner.
This was a thoroughly deserved win for Brazil who were calm in defence and carried a threat in attack. Gabriel Jesús was a little quieter than he was in Quito, but his presence occupies defenders and frees up Neymar. It’s early days for Tite, but his induction into the Brazil hotseat could scarcely have gone better. Brazil have look organised, confident and full of ideas during this double header. There are still ten qualifiers to play and the table remains very tight, but Brazil are sitting much more comfortably than they were a few weeks ago.
BRAZIL; 1.ALISSON, 2.DANI ALVES (c), 3.MIRANDA, 13.MARQUINHOS, 16.MARCELO, 5.CASEMIRO, 19.WILLIAN (11.Philippe Coutinho ’65), 15.PAULINHO (18.Guiliano ’71), 8.R.AUGUSTO, 10.NEYMAR, 9.G.JESUS (17.Taíson ’86).