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HomeSportsBrazil rue tactical caution in Copa América opener vs. Costa Rica

Brazil rue tactical caution in Copa América opener vs. Costa Rica



Tim Vickery

Brazil‘s young forward line went into this Copa América facing a big question: How would they cope against cautious opponents who defend deep and deny them the space to launch the counter attack?

The reign of coach Dorival Junior got off to an impressive start back in March with a win away to England and an exciting 3-3 draw with Spain. But these were wildly untypical of most of the matches that Brazil play — and especially different from Dorival’s competitive debut against Costa Rica. In front of their own fans, England and Spain pushed forward. Brazil could sit back and choose the moment to spring forward. This was clearly not going to happen against Costa Rica.

Argentine coach Gustavo Alfaro is an excellent organiser of a defensive unit. His Costa Rica were clearly going to take few chances, and they counted on an important ally — the size of the Inglewood pitch.

The playing surfaces used in this Copa are smaller than those for usual FIFA tournaments. This subject has become something of a Brazilian obsession in the tournament build up, since their obvious conclusion is that the smaller the pitch, the harder it becomes for them to play their way through the opposition.

The game against Costa Rica, then, had Brazil trapped in a private nightmare. They were expected to roll over their CONCACAF rivals with ease. Chances came and went. There were penalty appeals. Marquinhos had the ball in the net, only to have the goal ruled out for a narrow offside. Up in the stands, Neymar watched in increasing frustration as chances were spurned. Some of that frustration was felt on the field. Brazil were occasionally petulant, sometimes rushed. There was a lack, for example, of the calm quality with which, earlier in the day, James Rodríguez had set up Colombia‘s opening goal against Paraguay.

This time not even the introduction of teenage supersub Endrick could save the day. And so Dorival Junior’s first competitive game in charge of Brazil ended in a disappointing 0-0 draw, and Costa Rica, who posed no threat throughout the game, celebrated wildly at the final whistle.

How much blame should be laid at the door of Dorival?

On another day, the same level of performance would have brought about a comfortable win. But there were problems — the most obvious in the team selection. Against such defensive opponents, did Brazil really need both Bruno Guimarães and João Gomes in the centre of midfield?

João Gomes was wonderful at Wembley, making his international debut in March, when he snapped into tackles and kept the English at bay. Here he was probably superfluous. Centre backs such as Marquinhos and Éder Militão hardly required the level of protection that he supplies. It was striking that he was removed only inside the final 10 minutes, because the solution is so obvious; drop Lucas Paquetá to the central midfield role that he has often played for Brazil.

Paquetá is at his best playing front to goal, where he is best able to distribute the play. Further forward in this type of games, there is the added problem of Paquetá and Rodrygo competing for the same space. Dorival Junior, then, can expect the first heavy bombardment of criticism in his time as Brazil coach, both for having selected a team that was too cautious and then for waiting too long to change the balance.

Rodrygo, though, was probably the brightest spark of the performance. For years Brazil have harboured massive hopes of the mobile, intelligent and talented Real Madrid attacker, and he consistently found different ways to trouble the Costa Rica defence. His club partnership with Vinícius Júnior, though, did not really fire. It was a disappointing night for Vinicius, who gave way to Endrick with just over 20 minutes remaining. This is his first tournament as Brazil’s senior attacker, but the one-against-one skills were not on show against the Costa Ricans, who managed to avoid defeat to Brazil for the first time since beating an experimental side in the Pan-American Games of 1960.

Brazil might prefer to dwell on more recent events. In the 2016 Copa Centenario, Brazil demolished their CONCACAF opponents, cruising to a 7-1 win over Haiti. It did them little good. They failed to score against their South American group rivals, drawing 0-0 with Ecuador and losing 1-0 to Peru. Their fate in this year’s group phase will also be defined by results in the matches against CONMEBOL teams. Later down the line come the dangerous Colombia. But first, Paraguay, a side whose traditional resilience proved too much for Brazil in the Copas of 2011 and 2015. Perhaps Friday’s Las Vegas venue will encourage Dorival Junior to gamble on a less cautious line up.



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