Venezuela 0 Brazil 2
Back in June, they had been dumped out of the Copa América in the group stages and sat sixth in the CONMEBOL qualifying table. The axe was swung and Dunga’s dreary reign was curtailed. Since then, young Brazil squad swept to the country’s first Olympic gold for soccer on home turf, appointed the highly rated Tite and have now won their last four qualifiers conceding a single goal (an own goal) in the process.
If Tite has lifted the gloom around the Seleção, then Gabriel Jesús has been that extra ray of sunshine. In some senses, Tite was fortunate to inherit the national team once Jesús was ripe to become an international striker. Brazil have struggled for a quality number 9 since Ronaldo and Adriano shuffled off the international scene. Mano Menezes, Dunga and Felipe Scolari have all had to scrabble around a procession of false 9s, B grade centre forwards and strikers that have underdelivered on their potential.
Just seven minutes into this clash in rainswept Mérida, 19 year old Jesús settled any early tension with an exquisite goal- his fourth in four international caps since being inducted into the senior squad in September. Venezuela keeper Dani Hernandez inexplicably undercooked a pass to centre half Velazquez, which Jesús intercepted on the edge of the area. The finish belied the Palmeiras teenager’s 19 years, as he spooned the ball over the hapless goalkeeper and into the net.
It was just the start Brazil wanted and from there they were able to go into cruise control. However, they did not have this game all their own way, Penaranda gave Dani Alves a hard time at right back, with the usually industrious Willian often failing to track back and support. Brazil goalkeeper Alisson was far from a passenger, making impressive saves from Salomon Rondon and Rincon. Shorn of Neymar, Brazil were not quite as fluid going forward as they had been against Bolivia on Thursday.
On that night, Coutinho and Guiliano linked on the right to great effect, with Neymar and Gabriel Jesús swapping places from left to centre. Brazil did not offer the same cohesion in Mérida. Whereas Neymar likes to receive the ball on the left and then move inside, Coutinho moved into the number 10 role before receiving possession, which made the attack a little more formulaic. Coutinho and Jesús did not quite strike up the same understanding and often the Liverpool man’s final ball was poor when Gabriel Jesús was in a promising position.
However, the away side put the result to bed in the second half. Renato Augusto’s role is essentially to plug the gaps left by Brazil’s wandering wide players. On this occasion, he did a fairly good impression of a winger himself, taking the ball on the left hand side and sliding a low cross to the back post, where Willian was lurking. The Chelsea man provided an emphatic finish and the points were all but secure.
To their credit, Venezuela did continue to test Brazil from this point, that the canary yellows felt that the game was won at this point was fairly obvious. With around 20 minutes remaining, the floodlights failed, a reminder of Venezuela’s grim domestic issues currently, as electricity is rationed. This caused a delay of around half an hour and when play resumed, it was clear that Brazil had been unable to refocus. They were grateful to Alisson and some wayward finishing from Salomon Rondon for not making the final minutes nervier.
This was probably the least impressive game of Tite’s tenure, though the bar has been set pretty high in this small sample size. Brazil have glided to the top of the table. Their next assignment is the Superclasico against Argentina in Belo Horizonte next month. Not only do the Seleção have the opportunity to strengthen their own grip on qualifying, but they have the opportunity to inflict a hammer blow on the hopes of their oldest and greatest rival. Some turnaround since the dark days of June.
BRAZIL; 1.ALISSON, 2.DANI ALVES, 3.MIRANDA, 13.MARQUINHOS, 6.FILIPE LUIS (c), 5.FERNANDINHO, 19.WILLIAN (17.Taíson ’89), 15.PAULINHO, 8.RENATO AUGUSTO, 11.P.COUTINHO (18.Guiliano ’83), 9.G.JESUS.