Brazil Recovery On Track As Copa Approaches

BrazilThe 2014 World Cup semi final still haunts Brazil. The humiliating defeat at the hands of eventual winners Germany was an eye opener for a team so confident of success in the tournament that they became blinded towards the truth. Despite having arguably one of the best players in the world in Neymar, the Brazil squad selected for the World Cup in their home land was less than inspiring. Luiz Filipe Scolari’s side were good on paper but lacked the creative spark or cutting edge of previous Brazil world cup teams. No Robinho or Ronaldinho to add an extra dimension to their play and no Romario or Ronaldo like striker to fire them to glory. All in all it was a side built for one purpose – to support Neymar. The talented 22 year old was given a free role, allowed to roam and create and basically do what he does best. With that freedom, Neymar shone picking up four goals on route to the quarter finals and placing himself in the running for player of the tournament. But a bad clumsy challenge by Colombia’s Juan Zuniga in the last few minutes of their clash in the quarters ruled Neymar out for the rest of the tournament. Heading into the semi’s Brazil were like a chicken with its head cut off. Unable to function and without Neymar to lead the way, Brazil were torn apart by a rampant Germany hungry for success. The 7-1 score line was flattering to Germany but in truth it could have been more. Their pride severely dented, Brazil’s national team was in tatters.

Brazil were humiliated by Germany in the Semi Final or The World Cup (Image from Getty)

Brazil were humiliated by Germany in the Semi Final or The World Cup (Image from Getty)

Two months later a fresh looking Brazil side took to the field to play Colombia in a friendly. Led out by new manager Dunga returning for a second spell as national boss, Brazil looked nervous yet prepared to start to rewrite the wrongs that had happened months previously. Their ranks had been changed dramatically with several key players from the World Cup notably absent. Striker Fred, who suffered the most due to his poor showing at the World Cup, had retired from international football aged 30 whilst Julio Cesar, Jo, Hulk, Maxwell and Paulinho all were left out in favour of fresh blood. In came Diego Tardelli, Everton Ribeiro, Philippe Coutinho and a recall for Robinho to add options to Brazil’s approach. The inclusion of Atletico Madrid defender Miranda was also welcomed by the fans and Brazilian media, many of whom felt that he should have been part of the World Cup squad in the first place and not have been excluded. His addition helped to solidify a shaky looking defence, even if it meant breaking up the much hyped PSG duo of David Luiz and Thiago Silva.  The match against Colombia finished in a 1-0 win with newly appointed captain Neymar sealing the win with an 83rd minute free kick. That nervous win would kick start a run of friendly victories that has now stretched to eight in a row. Brazil are back so it would seem and with a bang. Or are they?

Yes they have played against some good sides (notably France, Chile, Argentina and Colombia) scoring 18 times and conceding just twice but in a majority of the games Brazil have labored away to get the win. This may be due to Dunga crafting the team in his vision – less flair, more workhorse like in their performances. Brazil is more disciplined than before preferring to play through teams on the deck rather than looking for adventurous but risky long balls. Neymar in his new role as captain has a more disciplined approach too, less free to roam the pitch and more focused on linking the play and inspiring the team with some quick setup work or a shot on goal. The results of this change have been evident with the Barcelona player scoring eight times in as many games, including a self demolition of Japan when he scored four goals. Unlike during the World Cup though, the pressure on Neymar as his country’s only real goal threat has been lifted with several new players drafted in to ease the burden. In particular, the emergence of Hoffenheim’s Roberto Firmino has been a massive boost to Brazil’s attacking options with the 23 year old playing a significant role as provider and finisher of some of Brazil’s best moves in recent games. Despite having only four caps to date, Firmino has scored two fantastic goals and looks set to cement his place in Dunga’s long term plans as long as his form continues for both club and country.

Brazil’s fresh start under Dunga has been impressive to date but the biggest challenges await with the Copa America the first of them. Due to be played in Chile in June, Dunga will know that only a strong performance and perhaps a win will be enough to mend the bridges with the Brazil fans that were so violently destroyed by that defeat by Germany. The Copa is far from an easy competition to win, arguably tougher than the World Cup so Brazil will need to be on their best form to be triumphant. Brazil face Peru, Colombia and Venezuela in the group stage starting June 14th with progression expected. Failure to progress is not an option open for Dunga especially with the heartache from the World Cup still fresh in Brazilian hearts and minds.

If you liked this post, please repost or retweet. Share your thoughts now on Facebook: https://facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog  or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

Oscar Misses Out As Brazil Gears Up For Copa Run

Copa target - Brazil manager Dunga (Image from Getty)With the Copa America just over a month away, Brazil manager Dunga has decided to name his squad in preparation. There are few surprises in the squad that will likely be captained by Neymar. In a fairly balanced squad Dunga has named a majority of the players who have played under him over the past eight friendly matches. However there is a recall for former Manchester City striker Robinho after his impressive season for Santos this year. The 31 year old forward will be hoping he can inspire Brazil to yet another Copa America title much like he did back in 2007. Currently on loan from AC Milan, Robinho has racked up only five goals in 13 league appearances this past season but has contributed much more to Santos overall style of play that his return of goals give him credit for. Also in the squad is Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho who has been the shining light in what has been a difficult season for the Anfield club. Having lost Luis Suarez to Barcelona and Daniel Sturridge to injury for a majority of the season, Liverpool have failed to build on last year’s 2nd place EPL finish. That said, Coutinho’s form especially in the last few months has propelled the club back into European contention and now sit in 5th place with three matches left to play.

There is no place however for the creative Oscar who has had a frustrating past few months with injuries, summed up perfectly by his knock out at The Emirates thanks to a wild challenge by Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina. The Chelsea midfielder was hoping that his recent injuries would be overlooked by Dunga and be able to claim a place by a call from Jose Mourinho soon sorted that out. The Portuguese coach, who spent last weekend celebrating his four Premiership title, placed a call to the Brazil manager to inform him about a thigh injury that Oscar had sustained in training. It’s a devastating blow for the 23 year old playmaker who is keen to build on his already impressive 45 appearances for his country including some standout performances at the last World Cup. Also missing out are the influential trio of Ramires, Dani Alves and Kaka with Dunga preferring to play favour with a group of players who fit more comfortably into his style of play. It may not be the style that most expect from Brazil, with attacking bias benched in favour of slower build up play with the midfield rather than the strikers playing a more significant role. This cautious approach is designed to avoid the pitfalls experience last summer.

Brazil as a nation is still reeling from the events of last summer and the Copa America, set to take place in Chile in mid June has been viewed by many in the country as the salvation. Since their 3-0 defeat to Holland in the third place playoff’s, there have been several personnel changes including the manager with Scolari replaced by Dunga. The changes have worked with Dunga’s new look Brazil side unbeaten so far in the eight friendly games they have played. They approach the Copa with confidence, with the country slowly coming back to support them in their droves. Dunga however is taking nothing for granted and knows that the memory of that 7-1 mauling at the hands of Germany in the World Cup semi final is still fresh in most Brazilians minds. The coach is always looking over his shoulder and for good reason. His first spell in charge was deemed a failure with his tactics especially in competitive matches questioned. Eight wins on the bounce is a great feat and goes a long way to mend the deep cuts inflicted by the Germans nearly a year ago. But failure to win the Copa, which is considered one of the more historic and important titles by many in South America, could result in Dunga leaving his job before the 2018 World Cup qualifiers begin in October. Reaching the final is a must, with even the semi’s not being enough to satisfy many. Dunga’s side will have to play six matches in four weeks if they are to reach the final so his team selection is designed specifically for this challenge. Instead of having a set eleven much like Scolari had at the World Cup, Dunga will use his full squad and rotate players depending on the opponent, with the only player likely to feature in all the matches being Neymar. He has strength in depth with several players in the squad able to play numerous positions which gives Dunga options in terms of tactical approach.

Brazil were humiliated by Germany in the Semi Final or The World Cup  (Image from Getty)

Brazil were humiliated by Germany in the Semi Final or The World Cup
(Image from Getty)

He has strengthen the backline, which looked shaky and unorganized last summer, with Atletcio’s Miranda coming in to break up the reliance of David Luiz and Thiago Silva at centre back. In goal, Julio Cesar has been sacrificed for  the more reliable, no nonsense Jefferson whilst Danilo and Fabinho have been drafted in to offer support from full back but perhaps not as much attacking threat as a Dani Alves. The addition of Everton Ribeiro and Diego Tardelli add attacking prowess and mark a first for Brazil by calling up players for the first time who play in the UAE and China respectively. Much rests on captain Neymar’s shoulders but perhaps not as much as in the World Cup. His absence in the semi final due to injury was a huge blow to Brazil’s attack minded approach with Fred the only real option. That over reliance cost Brazil dearly and is a mistake that Dunga is cautious to avoid making again. The Copa America offers the chance at redemption for one of the world’s best sides. How far they can go will depend on many aspects but one thing is certain – failure is not an option.

Brazil squad for Copa America

Goalkeepers: Jefferson (Botafogo), Diego Alves (Valencia), Marcelo Grohe (Gremio)

Defenders: Fabinho (Monaco), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Filipe Luis (Chelsea), Danilo (Porto), David Luiz (PSG), Marquinhos (PSG), Thiago Silva (PSG), Miranda (Atletico Madrid)

Midfielders: Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Elias (Corinthians), Casemiro (Porto)

Attackers: Everton Ribeiro (Al-Ahli), Douglas Costa (Shakhtar Donetsk), Willian (Chelsea), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Robinho (Santos), Neymar (Barcelona), Diego Tardelli (Shandong Luneng), Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim)

Share your thoughts now on Facebook:www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter:https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

Deconstructing Brazil – What Went Wrong

Down and Out - Brazil crashed out of the World Cup in stunning fashion (Image from AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)With the dust now settled on what was a stunning World Cup, the inquest into what went wrong for Brazil can now begin. Whilst other teams like England, Spain and Italy exited earlier than expected and before Brazil, it was the nature of the home teams implosion in the semi finals against eventual champions Germany and their failure to recover for the irrelevant third place playoff game that has many talking. Expectations were high going into the tournament off the back of winning the World Cup warm up event, the Confederations Cup. A spectacular demolition of Spain in the final by 3-0 lifted the hopes of a nation and set about creating a false dawn ahead of the World Cup. How could they not win? With Neymar playing well, the defence solid as a rock and Fred finishing top goal scorer, Brazil fans started to plan the victory parade before the World Cup had even began. After a group stage that taught us little except for Neymar’s brilliance, Brazil went into the knock out stages with more belief that ever before. But after crashing out in the semi finals to Germany by a score of 7-1 and then throwing away the third place playoff against Holland, many are wondering exactly what went wrong?

World Cup winners, Germany  (Image from PEDRO UGARTEPEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

World Cup winners, Germany
(Image from PEDRO UGARTEPEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Over reliance on Neymar

Neymar’s brilliance was on show from day one but so was Brazil’s apparent over reliance of their boy genius. Even from the first kick of the ball against Croatia, it appeared as though the tactic was simply give the ball to Neymar. The Barcelona star was at the heart of every play that Brazil made and in the beginning it was mesmerizing to watch. But as the tournament progressed, it gradually turned into predictable. Oscar, the creator of many of Brazil’s best moves cried out for the ball but his teammates instead chose to pass the ball to the heavily marked Neymar. The once unpredictable Brazil had become routine and beating them became obvious – nullify the threat of Neymar and the game is there for the taking. Brazil had little else in the locker – no Kaka to turn to for inspiration, no Robinho to add some flair or Ronaldinho for that matter to provide some brilliance. They may have breezed through the group stage but in the knock out rounds, Brazil dangled too close to the edge for comfort. Both Chile and Colombia tried to shut down Neymar and managed fairly successfully though tight marking although the latter took that too literally. A late and high challenge by Juan Zuniga ended Neymar’s World Cup and with it Brazil’s Plan A. Unfortunately a Plan B was not in the bank for them to turn to meaning defeat against Germany was inevitable.

An over reliance on Neymar cost Brazil dearly  (Image from Getty)

An over reliance on Neymar cost Brazil dearly
(Image from Getty)

The £50million mistake?

As a centre back, David Luiz is vulnerable. Against Germany his defending was laughable, his positioning more so. Against the Dutch his attitude to amend for previous mistakes was commendable but again his positioning let him down. Why a centre back was on the left wing with his team trailing by two goals was anyone’s guess. Too often Luiz was anywhere but at centre back leaving Thiago Silva stranded. Its easy to blame Luiz for all seven goals against Germany and that would be unfair as the entire team minus Oscar were culpable but against Holland the argument is vindicated. For the first goal, Luiz was found wandering at the half way line when the ball was played to Robben who was then dragged back by Thiago Silva for a penalty which Van Persie duly converted. Holland’s second came directly from Luiz who chose to clear the ball with his head into the middle of the pitch and onto Daley Blind’s left toe rather than head it out of towards the side line. And to cap off his bumbling display, he was again found out of position for Holland’s third stranded at left back which forced Fernandinho into defending against Janmaat’s cross. Unfortunately Scolari’s decision to place his faith in David Luiz as a centre back failed miserably and the player looked out of his depth and badly out of position. Luiz secured his dream transfer to Paris Saint-Germain for a record fee of £50 million just days before the tournament began with the view to him partnering Thiago Silva at the back next season but surely now even they must be having second thoughts?

Luiz looked lost against Germany and too often out of position  (Image from PA)

Luiz looked lost against Germany and too often out of position
(Image from PA)

Lack of options upfront

When naming his squad, Scolari chose to name only two out and out strikers – Fred and Jo out of a possible five. The other three positions went to winger Bernard, the all-rounder Neymar and forward turn winger Hulk. Playing with one upfront and Neymar in a floating role, Brazil and Scolari put a lot of faith in one striker in particular, Fred. The 30 year old Fluminense front man was rightly picked as his starting number nine after an impressive season with his club and an even more impressive Confederations Cup which helped to silence many of his critics. But unfortunately for Brazil and Scolari, on the world’s biggest stage Fred was posted missing. Ineffective in the group stages, misfiring in the knockout rounds Fred at times looked more like a liability than a goal threat. Foolishly Scolari kept faith but to no avail as Fred finished the tournament with only a single goal to his name. Why Scolari stuck through him is up for debate but looking at the other options available to him may give the answer. Substitute Jo may be effective in the National Championship but against tough tackling defenders, he became the player who badly failed at Manchester City all those years ago. Bernard, for all his tricks on the ball, is not an out and out striker but yet was thrown into the mix against a rampant Germany with the hopes of scoring a goals or two. As for Hulk, the player who gained his name from his formidable physique and love of the green skinned monster, was more timid than ferocious during the World Cup leading to many questioning if his nickname was indeed appropriate.

Fred's ineffective performances up front cost Brazil (Image from AFP)

Fred’s ineffective performances up front cost Brazil (Image from AFP)

Failed to learn lessons of the past

Brazil’s rich history in the World Cup is nothing to scoff at with a record five World Cups already in their locker. Learning how to win from them is one thing but learning from the mistakes of past failed Brazil teams is another. Scolari knew how to win the World Cup having won it before in 2006 but the fear of losing it never crossed his mind. He should have looked at past teams like that of the 1982 Brazil World Cup squad that went to Spain and learned from their mistakes. After all the similarities are painfully obvious. Clear favourites leading up to the tournament, they feared no one and rightly so as they were arguably one of the best Brazil sides never to win the World Cup. With a squad that included the ever talented Zico alongside the likes of Socrates, Eder, Serginho and Junior, Brazil ran through their group stage with ease which excited the Brazilian people into believing that this would be their year. But like the 2014 squad, Brazil crumbled in the knock out rounds with some startling similarities. Like Neymar, Zico was Brazils star player and the one who they looked to when they needed inspiration. He too was targeted by opposition numbers for rough treatment and almost missed the crucial tie against Italy after a horrendous challenge against Argentina threated to end his World Cup. But Zico managed to play against Italy but could do little to prevent Brazil from crashing out. Upfront Serginho, who had been in superb form for Sao Paulo in the Brazilian Championship in the run up to the tournament was misfiring and with no real option on the bench, Brazil were struggling in front of goal. Added into that Italy exposed Brazil’s defensive frailties on a too frequent basis for the game to end in their favour. Paolo Rossi ran riot with Italy eventually winning 3-2 and knocking Brazil out of the World Cup.  The harsh lessons that head coach Tele Santana learned from this experience should have been glaring warning signs for Scolari but for whatever reason he chose to ignore them.

Scolari could have learned something from the Brazil 1982 team who lost to eventual winners Italy  (Image from Getty)

Scolari could have learned something from the Brazil 1982 team who lost to eventual winners Italy
(Image from Getty)

Why he picked a squad with so few options upfront and little to no support characters like Kaka or Ronaldinho that could shoulder some of the burden from Neymar is unknown. Or why indeed he placed so much faith in David Luiz at centre back despite having a more than reliable alternative in Dante is even more baffling. Ultimately it was Scolari’s decision and one that has cost him his job with the CBF terminating his employment last week along with his coaching staff. Former Brazil manager Dunga and Corinthians manager Tite are rumoured to be the favourites to take over and regardless of which coach gets the job, both will look towards younger players like Oscar as they rebuild the Brazil squad. One man he wont be able to call upon is Fred who decided to retire from international football after being made into a proverbial scapegoat by many in the Brazilian media.  After the collapse in 1982, Brazilian football took a long time to recover focusing more on getting a result rather than playing attractive flowing football, the Brazilian way. For the sake of the world game and for the watching public, many will hope that history does not repeat itself and that Brazil can bounce back from this and show the world once more that they are a team to be feared in international football.

Share your thoughts below or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog. You can now follow us on Tumblr and Instagram as well!

Forlan Proves He Still Has It With Wonder Goal

Diego Forlan (Image from Wikipedia)When we think about the world’s best strikers, the names of Falcao, Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney often come to mind. But one player who is often forgotten is Uruguayan legend Diego Forlan. Forlan, now 33, has spent the better part of the last ten years trying to prove to many in the UK that he is not a flop but instead a world-class striker. His spell in Spain with Villarreal and then Atlético Madrid add weight to the argument as it proved to be one of the more fruitful spells of his career. In the seven years he spent there, after his disastrous spell in England with Manchester United, Forlan hit an amazing 155 goals in 240 appearances. Added into this, he managed to a further 22 goals at international level, cementing his place in the Uruguayan starting eleven over that same period. His star performance at the 2010 FIFA World Cup further added to his argument where he not only finished as top goalscorer but also managed to secure a spot in the team of the tournament. Despite this, Forlan’s spell at Old Trafford still haunts him, and at 33 years old, he feels that perhaps his chance has passed to show the Premiership what a quality striker he actually is.

Forlan during his United days (Image from Getty)

Forlan during his United days
(Image from Getty)

After a brief spell at Inter Milan, where he played second fiddle to another sensational striker Diego Milito, Forlan found himself moving to Brazil to play for Sport Club Internacional. He has found success once again in South America and in his time there has been in good form going into this season, where he has managed six goals in as many matches including a brace in his last game against Esportivo. Forlan is playing with a freedom that he hasn’t seen since his days in Spain and is finding the pace and space of the Brazilian game extremely welcoming. For defenders, these are the two things that you want to give Forlan the least as he has the ability to punish you from all over the park. Similar in style to Colombian hitman Radamel Falcao, Forlan possess the vision and skill to make something out of nothing, with his first goal against Esportivo a great example of this.

Forlan has been on form with Internacional (Image from AFP)

Forlan has been on form with Internacional
(Image from AFP)

Picking up the ball from Fred some 35 yards out, Forlan quickly assessed the options. With Leandro Damião and Josimar both being tightly man marked and only Andrés D’Alessandro available to pass to five yards away, Forlan decided to go for another option. Noticing Esportivo goalkeeper Fabiano Borges standing fairly central in his goal but about 5 yards off his line, Forlan lined up a stinging shot with his left foot. Hitting it with the outside of his left foot for maximum swerve, the ball rocketed into the top left hand corner of the net passed a helpless Borges. It was a typical Forlan finish which demonstrated his class in abundance. He later added a second goal with a magnificent piece of play at the edge of the area where he twisted and turned before drilling a low shot past Borges to secure the win.

Forlan celebrates his first strike (Image from AOL)

Forlan celebrates his first strike
(Image from AOL)

It is obvious that Forlan is enjoying his football at the moment, under the watchful eye of  Internacional’s head coach, former Brazil star Dunga. His partnership with Leandro Damião has proved fruitful and combined they are one of the deadliest strike teams in the league. Forlan knows it’s a mile away from his nightmare spell at United, where to be fair he struggled to settle into the faster pace of the game, but as he starts to wind down his career, he can confidently look back and say that he was one of the world’s greatest strikers.

For highlights of the game and to see both goals, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfY83kxNKLA

Like this post? Like us on Facebook now: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

Even Great Players Can Miss Penalties

The most memorable moment of the USA 1994 World Cup final, and some say the only one in what was a boring final itself, was Roberto Baggio’s penalty miss in the shootout. Baggio, who had been Italy’s star player throughout the tournament, conjuring two goals in the last 16, one in the quarter and two again in the semi finals to send Italy through to face favourites Brazil in the final. The Brazilian’s powered through to the finals mostly due to the goals of strikers Bebeto and Romario, keeping a young 17-year-old Ronaldo on the bench for the entire tournament. In the final, the two sides played out a drab match with few chances falling to either side, leading eventually to the dreaded penalty shoot out.

Under the baking hot sun in the Rose Bowl Arena in Pasadena, California, AC Milan legend Franco Baresi  stepped up to take the first penalty for Italy. He missed, giving Márcio Santos the chance to put Brazil ahead but he too caved under the pressure and miss his strike. The next two penalties from either side were scored, tieing the game at 2-2 after three penalties taken each.  Italy striker Daniele Massaro then missed his penalty and watched helplessly as Brazil captain, Dunga put his away. It was now down to Roberto Baggio to score the fifth and final penalty for Italy and keep them in the game. He placed the ball down, took a look at Cláudio Taffarel in the Brazil goal, steady himself for a long run up before skying the ball over the crossbar to hand the 1994 World Cup to Brazil. The divine ponytail, as Baggio was known at the time due to his chosen hairstyle, could only look at the ground in disgust. Camera replays show the ball moving slightly which could have led to the striker blasting over but there was nothing he could do but watch Brazil celebrate.

The Baggio miss is one of many penalty misses from football greats. Looking back through history, players like Van Basten, Muller, Platini, Cruyff and Puskas all missed penalties at some stage in their careers, granted not all of them as important as Baggio’s one. Even new stars like Messi and Neymar have missed penalties in their time. Only two days ago, in a friendly between Brazil and Colombia, Neymar replicated the Baggio miss in the last few minutes of the game. Although it was only a friendly, pride was at stake between these two countries coming into the match. Neymar had managed to equalise for Brazil after they fell behind to Colombia, courtesy of a Juan Cuadrado strike just before half time. But when Brazil were awarded a penalty in the 78th minute following a foul inside the area, Neymar, unopposed, confidently picked the ball up and placed it on the spot. Similar to Baggio, he took a long run, glanced at the keeper and then sent the ball some 15 yards over the cross-bar in an amazing miss. Neymar looked in disgust at the ground, but it may have been the slight hesitation he had in his run up that led to the miss. Either way, this miss cost Brazil the win, with the game finishing at 1-1.

Neymar was dismissive after the game, blaming the state of the pitch:

“The penalty was horrible but you probably noticed the state the pitch was in, it didn’t have any stability. I tried to take it slowly but it didn’t work out. These things happen.”

To be fair to Neymar, the surface at the East Rutherford Stadium, more suited to NFL than international football, was not in the best of conditions. The ball may have bobbled or rolled on the pitch resulting in him lifting it skywards and into the crowds. Neymar will no doubt want to correct his mistake in the next game for Brazil but this time he may have a few others looking to take over the penalty taking duties from him.

To see Neymar’s miss, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILqIS39fca8

To see Roberto’s miss in the 1994 final, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRpmm2GucK4