Brazil: Different Players, Similar Strategy

As we gear up for the World Cup 2014, the Prawn Sandwich Brigade will be looking at this year’s favorites to win it all in Brazil.  These articles highlight the differences from four years ago, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each team.  This is Part 1 in a 6-part series on the bookmakers’ favorites.

Brazil is almost always on the list of favorites by default, as they are A casa do jogo bonito.  Naturally when a new Brazilian star matures, he becomes absolutely brilliant and with him rests the hopes of World Cup glory for a sixth time.  In 2010 it was Kaka, ’06 was Ronaldinho, ’02 was Ronaldo. This year it’s definitely Neymar.

They aren’t afraid to make coaching changes often.  So while this 2014 version of Brazil will feature almost an entirely new team from who they had out there in 2010, their approach this year will be pretty similar, albeit with some subtle tweaks.

Where they were in 2010

In 2010, Brazil’s coach was Dunga,  a former World Cup winner, who favored a strong counter-attacking side with a lot of balance but also lesser known players.  He built his side around Kaka and Robinho who were two genuine superstars, but the rest of his team all came from teams that you’d probably only hear about if you played a lot of FIFA 10.  Anyway Dunga’s tactics, while unpopular, were very effective and organized.  His side featured rampaging fullbacks in Maicon and Michel Bastos but very defensive minded midfielders in Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva.  One of Melo or Gilberto would drop deep to pick up possession and then start attacks from there.

The one weakness of Brazil was that they struggled to break down teams who defended very deep (parking the bus) or were a primarily counter-attacking side themselves.  They struggled to beat North Korea, struggled to a 0-0 with Portugal, and eventually went out to the Netherlands due to a second half collapse and Wesley Sneijder’s individual brilliance.  Dunga was harshly fired, mostly because his tactics and methods were at odds with Brazil’s historical flair.

2014:  Scolari’s second coming

If Brazil wanted to bring sexy back for this tournament, they probably shouldn’t have gone with Felipe Scolari.   A pragmatic manager who won in 2002 but has had mixed success since then, Scolari favors a more rigid counter-attacking approach similar to Dunga’s.   He was brought in because Brazil’s previously open and carefree attitude in 2011-12 had resulted in them sliding down to as low as 23 in the world rankings and a series of embarrassing defeats.  Scolari quickly turned that around as Brazil dominated virtually everyone in the Confederations Cup, including a 3-0 defeat of Spain in the final.

A settled lineup for Scolari.
A settled lineup for Brazil.

Scolari has a couple of tendencies that we saw briefly in the 2013 Confederations Cup.

  • For one, he barely changes his starting XI as shown below. He came under fire for some of his team selections, but it has largely paid off.  Julio Cesar was barely getting a game for QPR, but he had a decent tournament.
  • He combined a good mix of selfless players, rigid defenders (David Luiz/Dante, and Thiago Silva), and very talented attackers.
  • Fred and Luiz Gustavo played in more selfless roles. Fred served as a target man to create space for Neymar and Hulk, but could also get on the end of crosses too.
  • Gustavo drops deep to protect the CBs while Marcelo and Dani Alves went forward to provide width.
  • The midfield trio has a good creator-runner-destroyer model. Oscar replicates his role at Chelsea, Paulinho doesn’t mind carrying the ball forward, and Gustavo breaks play up to start counter-attacks.

While Brazil did very well against Spain, Mexico, and Italy (sides who like having more of the ball), they found it quite difficult to play sides like Uruguay who defend deeper.  Counter attacking sides also tend to struggle more when they go a goal down.

World Cup Chances 

We'll see more of these if Brazil wins.
We’ll see more of these if Brazil wins.

Scolari has this team playing like a well-oiled machine and they should be able to handle the three teams in their group without any issues.  A matchup against Netherlands or Chile should play right into their hands should they meet up in the Round of 16 as both like to possess the ball and can be opened up on the counter attack.  Best case scenario would be that they win it all as many expect them to, and the worst case scenario would be that they lose the final to Argentina.  If they were to miss the final, that would be preferable than losing to their biggest rivals.  That being said, I find it really hard to see how they could lose.  I predict they’ll win it all.

 

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