Estádio Castelão, Fortaleza
Friday, July 4th, 20:00 GMT
Friday’s World Cup quarter-final match, between Brazil and Colombia, pits two teams on the opposite ends of the spectrum with respect to form. Brazil come into this match having survived against Chile, winning on penalties. Outside of their second half against Cameroon, the host nation has failed to dominate any of their opponents, and at worst have looked the lesser side in large stretches of these matches. If they continue their poor performance at this World Cup, they look poised to exit the tournament against their neighbors to the northwest.
On the other hand, Colombia come into this quarterfinal as one of the best performers in the tournament. Colombia have won all four of their matches in the tournament, scoring 11 goals, and only conceding two. Led by player of tournament James Rodriguez, Colombia had little trouble eliminating a Luis Suarez-less Uruguay side to reach this quarter-final match. With their potent attack, the Colombians appear poised to improve on the best World Cup performance in their country’s history.
Team New and Tactics
The most important player in this match may not be 100% fit for this match. Neymar picked up a thigh injury in Brazil’s victory over Chile. While it looks like he will play against Colombia, a hobbled Neymar on the pitch does not bode well for Brazil. With Brazil’s setting up to get Neymar the ball in 1-v-1 situations, a hobbled Neymar makes that strategy even less effective. Brazil may find themselves better off without a hobbled Neymar and a more fluid offensive attack, but the pressure to play their best player may prove too much for Luiz Felipe Scolari to make that bold decision.
Going into this match, Brazil will probably continue with the same back five they had played this whole tournament. Julio Cesar will play in goal, with David Luiz and Thiago Silva in front of him at the center back positions. Dani Alves will play right back and Marcelo will play at left back. Luiz Gustavo will play in the deepest midfield role. Given Colombia’s tendency to press team in the final thirds of the pitch, playing Fernandinho, as opposed to Paulinho, makes more sense, given his superior technical ability. In front of the two central midfielders, the attacking trio will likely have Neymar on the left and Oscar in the center.
Scolari faces another question when it comes to the right side of the attacking trio. Scolari could ignore both recent form and talent, and he could opt for Hulk. If Scolari is concerned about Colombia’s attack, particularly on the counter, he could field Ramires as a defensive shuttler. If Scolari does this, the formation would look less like a 4-2-3-1 and more like a 4-4-2 defensively, with a midfield four (going right-to-left) of Ramires, Fernandinho, Gustavo, and Oscar. Finally, Scolari could opt for the best two-way threat, which would call for him to field Willian, with Oscar and Neymar, in the attacking trio, with Oscar covering for Neymar defensively.
With a healthy Neymar, Scolari may have believed that Brazil had enough firepower to grind out a 1-0 victory. However, with a hobbled Neymar and with Fred at center forward, Brazil would struggle to score goals with Ramires. Therefore, it would seem that Willian represents the best option to start for Brazil.
Possible Starting Line-up: Cesar (GK); Alves, Silva, Luiz, Marcelo; Fernandinho, Gustavo; Willian, Oscar, Neymar; Fred
Colombia come into this match without the injury concerns or the concerns over fatigue that Brazil have. In front of the goalkeeper, David Ospina, is a back four of Juan Camilo Zuniga at right back, Cristian Zapata at center back, Mario Yepes at center back, and Pablo Armero at left back. The two fullbacks operate more like wing backs and play a crucial role in Colombia’s attack. Not only do they provide width and the ability to outman opponents on the flanks with their overlapping runs, but they also have the technical ability to receive the ball in deeper positions and drive forward. With an injured Neymar out there for Brazil, Zuniga and Cuadrado could find themselves 2-v-1 against Marcelo (or 2-v-0 given the fullback natural proclivity to bomb forward), making life hell for the Brazilian defense, unless Oscar covers for Neymar defensively. The threat of these attacking fullbacks could push Scolari to adopt a defensive 4-4-2 with Neymar as a shadow striker to ensure that Brazil do not get outnumbered on the flanks and reduce the defensive responsibility of Neymar without compromising the teams shape.
In front of the back four, Carlos Sanchez will play the role of holding midfielder. While he does not provide much technically, he does give Colombia a player with good positioning and tackling, making him an effective shield for the two center backs. Beside him, Abel Aguilar will also help to create the stable platform to allow the wing backs to bomb forward. However, unlike Sanchez, Aguilar will have some freedom to advance and join the attack.
The composition of the front four will have plenty to do with what Colombia wish to accomplish without the ball. Colombia have shown a willingness to press more that most teams in this tournament, but they do it in a unique manner. In the finals thirds of the pitch (their defensive third and their opponents defensive third), Colombian defenders look to apply pressure and win the ball. In the midfield third, Colombia willingly drop deep. This allows Colombia to win the ball back either high up the pitch, leading to highly favorable attacking situations against an exposed back line or allows them to suck teams in, win the ball back, and use their pace to hit them on the counter. While ceding possession in the midfield zone could prove dangerous against a team like Germany, Brazil lack the technical quality in central midfield and the patience in possession to punish the lack of pressure in that area (their penchant for long balls from center backs attests to that). If Colombia put a larger emphasis on pressing, Colombia would field an attacking trio of Victor Ibarbo on the right, James Rodriguez centrally, and Juan Cuadrado on the left, behind Teofilo Gutierrez.
Colombia could go back to a kind of asymmetric 4-2-2-2 with Jackson Martinez/Teofilo Gutierrez and Carlos Bacca up front. However, in either case, the man who makes it all run, James Rodriguez, will play a key role in the affairs. Not only can he operate in advanced positions, but he has also taken it upon himself in the last two matches to dictate play in a deeper role. With the lack of technical quality in central midfield, Rodriguez will look to shorten the distance between him and the central duo. This allows them to play easier passes to the young superstar. This makes Colombia a much more dangerous side, as Rodriguez can hit a wide variety of passes or carry the ball forward. So while Brazil may look to allocate one or two defenders to Rodriguez, his movement should buy him space and time, or at the very least, pull the Brazilian defense out of its shape.
Possible Starting Line-up: Ospina (GK); Zuniga, Zapata, Yepes, Armero; Aguilar, Sanchez; Cuadrado, James Rodriguez, Ibarbo; Gutierrez
- James Rodriguez leads the race for the Golden Boot with five goals
- Juan Cuadrado leads all World Cup 2014 players with four assists
- Brazil average 7.3 shots on target per game at this World Cup, 4th highest in the tournament
- Brazil average 23.5 tackles per game at this World Cup, 2nd highest in the tournament
- By WhoScored’s Ratings, Brazil have three of the top 20 performers at World Cup 2014 in Neymar (8.25, 4th), Oscar (8.04, 14th), and Gustavo (7.89, 19th), while Colombia have one in James Rodriguez (8.62, 3rd)
Player to Watch
Scolari built this side to get the most out of Neymar. It is unlikely that Brazil done much training with a fluid attacking trio (say Oscar, Willian, Bernard). So even if Neymar is not fully fit, it may still be best for Brazil to play him. If their superstar cannot provide an A+ performance, then Brazil will struggle to score without sacrificing their central structure that they find such comfort in. The first fifteen minutes could elucidate quite a bit about Neymar’s fitness. One should not be surprised if Colombia test Neymar’s fitness by aggressively pressing him whenever he touches the ball in their final third. If Neymar looks like his old-self, Brazil have a chance to advance to the next round. If Neymar looks anything less than the superstar he can be, then it becomes difficult to see how Brazil make it to the semi-finals.
Brazil 0-2 Colombia
Colombia have shown themselves to be one of the best teams of the tournament, while Brazil have failed to impress in any of their matches. Throw in concerns about Neymar’s fitness and Brazil coming off an intense, energy-sapping match against Chile, it seems that only a poor Colombian performance could prevent them from playing either France or Germany. With the pace and skill in attack, the Colombians should be able to break down Brazil on the counter attack or while controlling passages with possession. Players like James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado give Colombia a relative certain source of goals and/or chance creation. Even with Neymar at 100%, Brazil would find it difficult to match that kind of firepower.
Blast From The Past
CORRECTION: Due to a yellow card picked up by Luiz Gustavo against Chile, the holding midfielder will sit out this quarter-final match.
In all likelihood, Scolari will go with a central duo of Paulinho and Fernandinho. Not only does Brazil lose defensively by swapping a holding midfielder in Gustavo for a runner like Paulinho (Brazil has to hope that either one or both of Paulinho and Fernandinho can showcase some positional discipline, or they will have to drop more men in defense to feel secure in midfield), they also suffer in possession. Gustavo has the capability of hitting the occasional diagonal that finds a Brazilian attacker in an advantageous position. Paulinho has less of a capability to make that pass. Paulinho also represents a player for Colombia to attack when they press in advanced areas of the pitch. If Paulinho does drop deep to collect possession, the Colombians will likely look to exploit his lack of on-ball ability and create turnovers by applying significant on-ball pressure. Given potential for high-leverage turnovers, if that scenario played out, Fernandinho may take it upon himself to drop deep to collect the ball from the center backs/goalkeeper. The other alternative sees Brazil become more dependent on long balls from Thiago Silva and David Luiz. More radical, and therefore less likely solutions, would include playing David Luiz in midfield (breaking up the Silva/Luiz pairing Scolari has so much belief in) or going to a back 3 with Dante/Silva/Luiz (unlikely as a back three represents quite a change to Brazil’s system and those three CBs primarily operate in back 4s) Either way, the suspension of Gustavo represents a significant loss for the Brazilians. He is not their best player, but he is one of their most valuable.