Venezuela v Brazil preview
Standing in their way are rock bottom Venezuela, who have only 2 points from qualifying so far. Brazil will be huge favourites, as they were for the Bolivia match on Thursday, which they won resoundingly. Anything other than a convincing victory would be a disappointing result for Tite’s men. The two years prior to Tite’s appointment saw the national team enveloped in a kind of despondency and hopelessness.
Olympic gold in August, followed by 9 points from 9 in Tite’s first three games in charge have transformed that mind state. Tite has always been highly rated as a pragmatic coach, but wins over Colombia and Bolivia in particular have been achieved with a fair amount of swagger. It’s not quite the 1970 and 1982 futebol arte vintage, but it represents a big improvement in style. As the forerunners of sexy football, Brazil will always be judged on style as much as substance. However, the manager still has selection headaches to tend to ahead of the trip to Mérida.
For a start, Neymar serves a one match suspension and the word from the training camp is that Willian will be reinstated to replace him. This means that Philippe Coutinho will move to his favoured left hand side position. The partnership between Neymar and Gabriel Jesús on the left has been a key feature of Tite’s short reign, with the pair swapping positions from left to centre to create overloads and passing combinations. Coutinho ought to be able to mimic Neymar’s role alongside Jesús easily enough.
However, Willian was something of a passenger on the right hand side in September qualifiers against Ecuador and Colombia. The coach’s system does not tend to favour more traditional wingers like Willian. Tite likes his wide players to move inside and provoke. On Thursday, the partnership between Neymar and Gabriel Jesús from left to centre was neatly matched by Coutinho and Guiliano from right to centre.
The latter duo will be broken up completely, with Paulinho returning from suspension, it looks as though he will take Guiliano’s place- which would be harsh on the Zenit man given the quality of his performance in Natal. Whereas Coutinho and Guiliano stayed close together to buddy up against Bolivia’s heavily manned defence, Willian will play more of an orthodox wide role, with Paulinho looking to break forward into the box in support. Renato Augusto will probably stay close to the left hand side to fill any gaps left by the wandering Coutinho, while Fernandinho patrols in front of the defence.
On the bench, Roberto Firmino and Guiliano will provide compelling options should Brazil require them. Firmino is accustomed to being part of a fluid frontline at Liverpool and already has an understanding established with Coutinho. The back four will stay the same, with Dani Alves and Filipe Luis flanking Marquinhos and the reliable João Miranda. Venezuela’s match with Uruguay on Thursday suggests that the Seleção rearguard will not be idle spectators.
Venezuela missed a number of presentable chances- including an open goal- in the opening 30 minutes against Uruguay before succumbing to a 3-0 defeat. In Salomon Rondon, they have a striker capable of leading the line with power and strength. Venezuela have created enough opportunities in qualifying to be on considerably more than 2 points, but have not been clinical enough to take them. The Brazilian defence cannot afford to take their task lightly, otherwise Venezuela might finally enjoy a good day in front of goal.
Tite will want his side to stamp their authority on the game early, as they did so well against Bolivia. He has the players to enact a patient build up game, as Venezuela will likely defend in a deep block. Even without Neymar, Brazil ought to have enough to win this game comfortably, complacency is the major roadblock to them doing so. Venezuela have almost no chance of qualifying for the World Cup at this stage, so the fixture ought to lack intensity. Though Brazil of course remains a desired scalp due to their prestige and history.
Predicted line-up; 1.ALISSON, 2.DANI ALVES, 3.MIRANDA, 13.MARQUINHOS, 6.FILIPE LUS, 5.FERNANDINHO, 8.RENATO A. 17.PAULINHO, 11.COUTINHO, 19.WILLIAN, 9.G,JESUS.
Predicted score: Venezuela 1 (Rincon) Brazil 3 (Gabriel Jesús, Paulinho, Coutinho).