Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Brazil vs Chile in Salvador da Bahia: preview. September 9th, 2009
With qualification secured, tonight's clash against visitors Chile could well have been approached as a rehearsal, or even a party piece, by a Brazilian squad. But with a few notable absentees through suspension, Dunga's team will be one which, while offering something of a novelty in the changes to the line-up, will hardly be entertaining frivolity nor indulging in experminents. The coach is decided; he and his players "know what they are playing at" to use a local expression- an allusion less to craftiness or guile than to an identity, a game plan, any game plan.
Besides their unbridled ambition to wrap up their three remaining games as group leaders, the willingness, dare I say, stubborness with which Brazil will stick to their itemised script will be reflected in the seriousness with which Kaka's, Robinho's, Lucio's and Luis Fabiano's replacements will take to the stage tonight, for theirs is a big audition. That Julio Baptista, Nilmar, Miranda and Adriano should appear desperately eager to book their place on the plane to South Africa whilst acknowledging that none among them will be a theoretical starter come next summer is testimony to Dunga's deft man-management.
Whatever misgivings as to the style on display, eulogies are being bandied about as to the group's motivation levels, professional attitude and lack of fanfare (insofar as this is possible with the seleção)- even the suffocatingly synchophantic and commercially-driven relations with the media, normally a source of constant irritation for even the most affable of Brazilian national team coaches - appears not to be denting the mood in and around the camp. The ostentatious demonstrations of spirituality televised and so etched onto the world's consciousness during recent tournaments- the "I Love Jesus" shirts, the huddled prayer offerings on bended knee, the gestures towards the heavens- all this has been further woven into the ethos of the dressing-room, but this time taking on a more intimate and ecumenical dimension.
Assistant Coach Jorginho counts among his fellow born-again brethern Kaka and Lucio, but the other Protestant denominations represented here and well as the more traditionally representative Catholics- devout, lapsed and ambiguous are also in on the act. Even those who are not entirely comfortable with expressing what, which or if any faith they adhere to in such an arena have been steadily accommodated in an atmosphere of mutual support and bonding. Even Robinho has shown signs of tempering his predeliction to party, or at least controlling his playboy urges when surrounded by this group of friends and players.
Out on the pitch, tonight, Brazil will be practically identical to the team which defeated Argentina in Rosario, at least in terms of shape. Like-for-like replacements seems to be Dugna's mantra and with the least structural change possible. So Miranda slots into to the space vacated by Lúcio in the back four, Julio Baptista resumes his understudy role for the absent Kaká in the advanced midfield position, the lightning-quick Nilmar will assume Robinho's second-striker-cum-false-winger role whilst Adriano is the logical stand-in for target man Luis Fabiano.
Brazilian punditocracy concludes that Dunga has fifteen squad places clearly accounted for (as in 'further applicants need not apply'), an additional four spots to be slugged out between a fixed list of some six contestants, as well as a list of (mainly domestically-based) local hopefuls who should be on standby in the event of late injuries or such set-backs, and finally, a vacancy for the secondary and tertiary goal-keeping positions. But it all looks pretty much decided: even the subsitutes have honed a serene awareness of the weight and hue of their respective contributions to the starting XI.
While for Dunga, at least, tactics shouldn't take on much prominence tonight, Chile will be hoping to add another tone to their cohesive set-up. Their eccentric and pensive coach Marcelo Bielsa will never let his side play a cautious game - home or away- Chile will take to the attack, perhaps even relentlessly, but he has given signs in recent outings of a certain willingness to compromise at least in terms of how his vertically challenged defenders deal with high-ball specialists, such are the Brazilians. Rather than compromise, call it attention to detail, for one thing that the obsessive Bielsa has never neglected has been the forensic element to the game, indeed, the Argentine native has been known to sleep in the facilities at Chile's training ground on occassion!
Bielsa has refined his Van Gaal-inspired 3-3-1-3 system in recent years since taking a sabbatical from football in 2004. His retiring to his farm in Santa Fe province should have served as some form of cold turkey, yet Bielsa simply concealed himself - in a manner reminiscent of Howard Hughes - in his library replete with football videos (he is purported to have some 3,000 odd performances on file), attempting to follow every detail of every development in world football. He did receive the odd visit to the ranch, do bear in mind, such as that by an aspirant Pep Guardiola (then still winding down his career in Mexico); the two spent eleven hours straight discussing minutae of the game.
Chile have switched between 4-3-3 and 3-3-1-3 throughout the qualifying phase, depending on the requirements, but for the Brazil clash the coach intends to slightly tilt the system towards a hybrid 4-2-3-1/4-2-2-2 for the extenuating circumstances of tonights game; namely, that few countries have as physically imposing a defensive base as Luizao and Miranda (who, after all, are back-up!) aided by Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva, a bulwark against which the stocky and industrious little Humberto Suazo has struggled against in previous encounters. The aim tonight may simply be to draw the Brazilians out from their defensive midfield screen just that little bit further, thereby opening up spaces for the wide attackers -Alexis Sanchez and Jean Beausejour- to slip diagonally between the attack-minded Brazilian full-backs and the towering central players.
Independent of tonight's result, Chile should be on their way to South Africa. In the event of a hypthetical draw or victory, something not unimaginable, such a result should not be attributed to a lacsadaisacal approach on the part of the Brazilians. But teams, in their own different way, have a lot riding on tonight's performances, in what should make for a fascinating contest.