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.


  1. Great piece as usual. The question about Brazil might just be whether they have peaked too early or not but that question was asked about Barcelona too, however the main question I guess about them will be whether they can keep this spirit come June/July and roll through. You have questioned the use of Gilberto Silva on the Guardian but I guess Dunga is until now ready to sacrifice play for the greater good of team spirit. In a short tournament, nothing might in the end matter more than being together.
    As for Bielsa, it's a pity he didn't become Argentina coach in 2006. Surely the current crop of players and the weather in South Africa compared to South Korea would have helped his football much more. But Chile will be an interesting team to look forward too. It's about time anyone from South America proves that they actually deserve more than the spots they got, especially on Asia's expense.

  2. Rob,
    "Dunga won't be indulging in experiments"...That is the understatement of the year. I think we all know by now that Dunga is the anti-thesis of everything we've known about Brazilian soccer through the years. As you stated, he has righted all the wrongs with the team: the commercialism that's sunk many a Brazilian team and the rock star hands off manager.

    He has imprinted this team with a workman like attitude and steely discipline in and out of the field. You can almost say that his players reflect his determined attitude and discipline...isn't that every coach's dream?

    Bielsa is another odd fellow but also very successful. I'd like to see El Loco lead this Chile team to South Africa.

    Great article. Look forward to an analysis of the Argentina-Paraguay game, that should be killer game. Thanks....

  3. Good piece Rob. Looking forward to the game later.

    Just like to ask something regarding squad spaces. Youve said that most of those are now cemented for the World Cup with a few spaces still up for grabs. Id like to know if Diego has any chance of a callup before then? Has he figured in any of Dunga's recent squads? I know there has been an emphasis on athleticism in Dunga's selection because of the nature of Brazil's counterattacking game but surely there's room for a genuinely creative talent like Diego over the likes of Julio Baptista? Looking at his scoring and assist record at Werder Bremen and Juventus so far, one can hardly accuse him of being inefficient. Thoughts?

  4. Good afternoon to everyone,

    thanks for your comments and observations.

    @ libero, RE: Diego.

    I am perplexed as you at Dunga's reticence to even call him up to the bench. But it seems that the best Diego can hope for, is to put in an impressive season in a rugged Juve side to convince Dunga that he can be useful as an extra weapon coming off the bench. That I would have him in the starting eleven doesn't appear to be a criterion shared by Dunga, who is content to completely renounce any mifield creativity whatosoever, preferring instead the direct, probing style of Kaka.

    Whether this will haunt Brazil in difficult games, where they struggle to break down good defences, I don't know. But it doesn't auger well that Dunga won't even rely on Diego or a similar player for a Plan B. Remember, they even struggled against the minnows of Bolivia - minnows in every sense of the word - at home in Brazil. The Bolivians sat two deep banks of four and Brazil failed to unlock them, drawing 0-0.

    Now omagine up against a stronger team!

  5. Rob,

    Nilmar. I'd never seen him play before. He was incredible, much more active than Robinho. Quality player...does he replace him on the starting 11?

  6. @ Chess GM

    Re: Nilmar

    A fine player indeed.
    His first spell in Europe, at Lyons (2004-05), was unfortunate, in that it was too much too soon for a then-20 year old with a frail constitution, and sure enough he sufferend recurring injuries. The MSI-funded Corinthians splashed out the cash to repatriate him in the 2005 season, alongside other prolific purchases - most notably Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano (which goes to show you just how highly regarded Nilmar has always been in South America).

    Though still quite slim, he has toughened up in recent seasons since returning to his beloved Internacional and, in an indictation as to the high quality of Brazilian sports medicine, he lost not so much as an inch of the blazing pace he ha dalways possessed.

    The result that you can now see at Villarreal this season, is a younger version of THierry Henry- except even more direct. He can play as a second-striker in a pairing or even as a winger in a three-man attack. This season he should dovetail beautifully with the nimble little Giuseppe Rossi in what will surely be one of the most dangerous counter-attacks in Europe.

  7. With his hat-trick against Chile, Nilmar has certainly booked his place on the plane to the finals

    As to whether he can realistically replace Robinho in the starting XI, I think it's too early to tell. But either way, I think Dunga's mana management in respect of both players has been masterful. He will ensure that Robinho cannot allow himself a lethargic season at Man City, but at the same time he is aware that Robinho is a sensitive lad who, when faced with the mental challenge of potential rejection, can easily deflate, and so Dunga probably will prefer to get him out to South Africa with the impression that he is at the centre of his coach's plans.

    Either way, you've got to envy Dunga with this particular selection headache!

  8. on a completely unrelated, different and not important issue, I picked Palmeiras as a team to follow in Brazil. Friend of mine brought me a shirt, always digged them because of Rivaldo and now Edmilson, and "eu canto eu sou Palmeiras até morrer" is a deeply philosophical chant going back to "eu canto que eu sou" or "eu penso que eu sou" ;)

  9. @ Oleguer

    If Palmeiras are your team, then you are in pole position to clinch the Brazilian title. Luxemburgo left the club mid-way through the campaign, with Muricy Ramalho exiting São Paulo to take over at 'O Verdão'and seems to have turned their season around. Muricy was an unremarkable centre-back at São Paulo and had gone on to coach several clubs both in Brazil and abroad, mosty notably his São Paulo sides of the past three seasons who won three championships on the trot. All down to the coach's strict formula: defensively tight (usually three centre-backs), methodical in midfield, and a penchant for counter-attacks punctiated by one or two touches of flair from stand-out players. Not unlike a typical 1980s Italian club side. At Palmeiras he seems to be repeating the script, grafting his style onto a side which was badly demoralised and which "no jugaba a nada", so to speak. It isn't pretty stuff, but they are incredibly effective.

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  12. interesting....good to know. I had seen some games by Sao Paulo, and as you say, they were not nice to watch but if you like, modern. Especially Hernanes seems to have done better under him than he does now. I have him at Palmeiras on FIFA anyway now, but still.

    Anyway, since you promised a Pellegrini post...I don't know how much bashing he will get by anyone tomorrow, probably not that much but I thought today's game against Sevilla showed his problems and the problem Kaka has. If you look at the days in Milan, Kaka had at least 2 workhorses in midfield behind him and a guy like Pirlo playing from deep as a "quarterback" if you like(I think Pirlo is the most quarterback like player ever in football) and he in the attacking third playing one few touches with space ahead of him and many players(Jankulowski, Bonera, Serginho etc.) giving width to the team and moving without the ball at their feet and most importantly 1 or 2 strikers with great movement off the ball. He has none of that at Madrid. Ronaldo gives them an individual edge but even he wouldn't have done that much today.
    Similar to that, I don't exactly know what Pellegrini means when he says that he doesn't like "llegada" of his midfielders but them keeping possession and no offside traps but giving a field day to Navas and Konko on the right against Marcelo and Perrotti and Adriano on the left against Ramos wasn't certainly part of it. I guess the idea was to control midfield with those 3 central midfielders and play a system similar to Inter's and if they had taken the lead etc. then it might have been a different game but it still made no real sense.
    And I also don't know how much of a good idea it is for everyone involved to give Benzema carte blanche and a guarantee to play, especially with Higuain on the bench knowing that his time will probably not come. I have never ever seen Pipita that much without any fire. At least you always knew that he would run his heart out.

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