Opinion, by Robbie Blakeley
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazil got the job done in their World Cup opener against Croatia last Thursday at the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo, but it was far from pretty. The 3-1 scoreline suggests on paper a level of comfort that was hardly experienced by the players or the millions supporting the Seleção on television screens across the land.
True, Brazil found the stomach for the fight after falling behind to Marcelo’s own goal, the first by a Brazilian in the history of the World Cup. Driven by Neymar and an insurgent Oscar, the two 22-year-olds gave Brazil a vitally important three points as they embarked on their World Cup quest.
They were the leading lights in the comeback, Oscar scoring a fine third goal that his magnificent performance deserved. After being on the end of stinging criticism from the Brazilian press for anonymous displays in World Cup warm-up friendlies, he answered those questioning his place in the team in the best possible way.
Much has been made of Scolari’s success with the Seleção, and it is not to be sniffed at. Nine wins in a row, Confederations Cup success, and, importantly, a defined starting XI for the best part of a year. But perhaps that final prong of Felipão’s fork is a somewhat cursed blessing. With rampant success over the last year, has there been the need, or forethought, to develop a Plan B when things go awry?
Certainly, against Croatia, one would have been hugely helpful. Right-back Daniel Alves looked horribly exposed without the assuring presence of Hulk in front of him. If Hulk is to start on the left, as he did last week, the more defensively sound Maicon may well be a better choice for the right-back berth. Alves was caught out of position twice early on against Croatia.
Fred, who led the line so admirably during the early days of Scolari’s reign, is slowly becoming unstuck. He has netted just one goal in his last 378 minutes of international football. His only meaningful contribution last Thursday was to throw himself to the ground for the controversial penalty decision. If he is not firing, as happened last week, Brazil needs a second option, a tactical switch that means they are not effectively playing with ten men; during the first half, Fred touched the ball just once.
Despite Neymar scooping the plaudits, Oscar was at the heart of Brazil’s impetus, and can be key throughout this tournament. Playing wide on the right and constantly switching roles with Neymar, the two look to have developed a fruitful understanding that could lead to Fred’s removal from the starting line-up, freeing up a more versatile front line with no fixed target man.
Familiarity with Brazil’s tactical approach could hinder the hosts further down the line. After an excellent period for the Seleção and Scolari, variation and flexibility will be pivotal to their chances of lifting the trophy on July 13th at the Maracanã.