After the Copa America debacle where Brazil lost to Paraguay in the Quarterfinals, Mano Menezes is on a mission to create a ‘new’ Brazil. A Brazil, which will not only play breath-taking football but also be a world-beating squad. His ambitions have so far reaped benefits but not on such a scale where they can considered as best in the world. Since that day in La Plata, Brazil has lost a single match in 2011 and three matches in 2012. With the Olympics just around the corner, it is time to take a closer look into this Brazil squad brimming with ‘youth’.
The Post-Copa Brazil
Post-Copa, Brazil faced Germany in their first friendly match and it turned out to be disaster for the Selecao. The Germans not only dominated possession for majority of the match but also had twice as many shots both on and off target. It was one of the rare matches where Menezes opted for a 4-4-1-1 formation with Neymar and Pato on top. For majority of the match, the Brazil players were stretched out of position and the center-back duo of Lucio and Thiago Silva failed to contain the German onslaught.
3 goals and 90 minutes later, Menezes decided to revert to his favorite formation – 4-2-3-1. He has favored this formation for a long time and the use of holding midfielders as well as wide players is fundamental to his set-up. Brazil is one of the teams which is extremely fast in counter-attacks and if they do not have adequate men in the right positions of the field, their inherent ability to dodge and run will be curbed.
All that changed soon and in 2011, Brazil never lost a match again. During that period, Brazil defeated Argentina, Ghana, Costa Rica, Mexico, Gabon and Egypt. In all of these matches, Brazil played a fast attacking game where they looked to spread the game wide on the wings whenever they had the opportunity to attack. Ronaldinho made a return after a long time for Brazil against Ghana and since then has featured in almost all of the matches so far.
Neymar and Ganso – A study in contrasts
The other experienced players like Kaka and Robinho however have been left out in the cold by Menezes. Neymar, the newest sensation from Brazil has now become the focal point for all attacks. In the pre-match shows, he is portrayed as a striker, but more often than not, Neymar drops down a little and plays as an Attacking Midfielder rather than an out-and-out striker. This in turn has helped the other strikers a lot like Hulk, Damaio, Fred, Jonas and Pato.
A tricky customer with the ball, Neymar is fast and accurate with his short passes. The most recent beneficiary has been Pato, who looked to play on a much higher level as compared to his recent slump with Milan. The pair exchanged a multitude of passes throughout the final third and the world got to see what Pato is still capable of under the right circumstances. Moving all over the field, Neymar always finds himself a free place to receive the ball and provide the perfect through ball for a striker to run to. Needless to say, he is fulfilling the CAM role in the absence of Ganso.
Rated highly for most parts of last year, Ganso has slowly slid into the shadows. Much was expected from the lanky midfielder in the mold of Kaka but till now he has not delivered for the national team. An old-fashioned playmaker, Ganso was destined for greater things. His progress was hampered not once, but on multiple occasions by lengthy injuries.
Ganso was isolated for larger parts of last year’s Copa and sadly he bore the brunt of the failure of Selecao. His telepathic communication with club and team mate Neymar is one on which Brazil is banking on. However, due to his intermittent injuries, Menezes has now opted to play Oscar in the same position. Will Ganso fulfill his true potential for Brazil – this is one question only time and he can tell.
The young Brazil – Hulk and Oscar
Givalnildo de Souza has burst into the international scene not many years ago but still has a long way to go for the Brazil side. Givalnildo, popularly known as Hulk (a name given by his father who is a fan of The Incredible Hulk TV series), plays with Porto and till now has only 3 international goals to his name, the latest of which came in the 4-3 loss to Argentina. A strong-built, fast winger, Hulk is capable of playing either on right wing or on top as lone striker. After scoring 76 goals in 166 appearances for Porto, it is time for him to make his mark for Brazil.
Another player to have made his mark in recent times is Oscar, who currently plays for Internacional. Ganso’s persistent injuries opened the door for Oscar to make his mark for Brazil and till now he has not faltered in the biggest stage of them all. Fast, witty, accurate with his passes, Oscar prefers to play in a central role. However, this might raise some concerns after Ganso makes a successful return from surgery. Menezes might be tempted to push Oscar to the right to accommodate Ganso in the center, but that would hamper Oscar’s overall impact on the game.
The 20-year-old could well be the man around which the current Brazilian team will be built, if some rumors are to be believed. Not only does he dispossess the opposition in the midfield, he also uses those to launch a counter-attack, as was seen most recently during matches against Denmark and USA. Some experts even pick Oscar ahead of Hernanes, Diego or even Kaka.
However, the last statement should be taken with a pinch of salt. But what sets Oscar apart from his counterparts is his immaculate balance, his perfect use of the tiniest of spaces to turn on the ball and an excellent first touch. Needless to say, he will become a mainstay in this Brazilian side in the years to come.
Menezes now has possibly the strongest team from Brazil for this year’s Olympics. Not only is he well covered in every area of the pitch but the emergence of such youngsters like Oscar, Casemiro, Lucas Moura and Dede bode well for the future. The present squad from Brazil will go on to define the next 10 years for the country. With the present Brazil squad brimming with talent, experience and youth, the Olympics and the World Cup two years later might be the defining moment for the current crop of Selecao.