As has been touched upon on this site before, timing is one of the most important factors in football. As an example, imagine the World Cup’s four year cycle was one year earlier: when Luiz Felipe Scolari took over Brazil in June 2001, they were going through their worst ever qualification campaign and, although he managed to turn them around, they made it to South Korea and Japan with just three points to spare.
England, on the other hand, were just a few months aways from their 5-1 demolition of Germany. More crucially however, a 2001 World Cup would come before David Beckham’s metatarsal injury, Steven Gerrard’s groin problems that saw him pull up in the last game of the 2001-02 season (although his replacement Nicky Butt was one of England’s stand-out performers), and Gary Neville’s broken foot.
Ignoring the quite frankly ridiculous influence of Michael Ballack and Oliver Kahn on Germany, England and Brazil were the only good teams at the 2002 World Cup, and a year before Brazil had been awful while England had been even better. A year earlier and England may have finally put to bed the demons that had built up over decades without a trophy. Instead Big Phil started his irritatingly frequent habit of halting England’s progress in tournaments.
To sort out Brazil’s woes, he did what seemingly all coaches must do now to achieve success with Brazil now: get a core of creative players and then set up a solid defensive base around them, allowing the freedom to get the goals while everyone else makes sure. Scolari’s free men were the “Three Rs” – Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Ronaldo. Set up in a 3-4-2-1, that trio made up the highest positioned players, whereas Juninho Paulista, himself an attacking midfielder, sat behind them with Emerson, acting as the link between the defence and attack while Emerson did the dirty work, along with wing-backs Roberto Carlos and Cafu. In front of the fairly average Marcos in goal was Lucio, Roque Junior and Edmilson – the latter having the license to bring the ball forward.
Emerson was injured days before the tournament began so Cafu was given the captain’s armband and Gilberto Silva, who was a surprise inclusion in the squad after a great season in which he had been moved from central defence into midfield, took his midfield spot.
Unlike most of the classic Brazil side, this was a team based on quick, direct football rather than the possession game that brought the world that Carlos Alberto goal. The defence sat deep, relying more on numbers than great organisation to stop the opposition, which allowed plenty of space on the counter for that forward trio to manipulate. If their opponents dropped back quickly to help out against Ronaldo et al, Edmilson or Lucio had the space to stride forward and force the other team into confronting them which in turn opened up space for the wing-backs, Juninho to do the same or the Three Rs.
Playing deeper brought the opposition onto them, which meant there was often space behind the opposition to test out the new-look Ronaldo. A string of knee injuries forced Ronaldo to change his game from the complete attacking force to a more poacher-esque, last shoulder-type striker – the 2002 World Cup was his return and the first taster of the new him saw him finish as top scorer with eight goals. His tendency to hover around the last man meant Brazil always had the option to hit it long into that space – it was rarely effective but Ronaldo had the ability to make anything work and it’s always nice to remind the opposition you have one of the greatest players in history up front.
Although they weren’t utilised as often as you would expect, the option wing-backs Roberto Carlos and Cafu tirelessly offered was key to Brazil’s success. That front three obviously stayed fairly narrow, so having those two stretching play posed plenty of problems for the opposition. One of their better repeated moves was having one of the trio cut inside as far as possible, dragging defenders with him, lay it off to a midfielder to knock wide for one of the scampering wing-backs.
Brazil eased their way through what was a fairly easy group, surprise semi-finalists Turkey aside, and into the knock-out rounds for a tie against Belgium. A substitution against the Belgians seemed to influence Scolari’s line-up for the rest of the tournament: struggling to break down them down, Scolari took off Juninho for Denilson – the winger best known for Real Betis spending a world record Â£21.5 million on him only to discover he was only really any good at stepovers. Brazil went on to win the game, but the change opened them up in midfield. Although he proved to be a revelation, Gilberto simply wasn’t mobile enough to patrol the entire midfield by himself and Belgium began to dominate the area, creating chances when they hadn’t before. Some brilliance by Rivaldo put them ahead, but Scolari realised his mistake and rectified it by bringing on Kleberson for Ronaldinho, who subsequently replaced the more creative Juninho from then on.
The side was functional rather than all-conquering, but then every good Brazil side since Parreira provided the blueprint in 1994 has been. Plus functional doesn’t equal dull: the 2002 side was still very attacking and that trio is among the finest to have graced a World Cup. Year earlier however, and Beckham might not be pulling out of that tackle.