Brazil 0 – 0 Venezuela
Estadio Ciudad de La Plata, July 3rd – Group B
Brazil began their Copa America campaign in much the same way as Argentina did two nights previous tonight with early promise fading into an insipid performance against lesser opposition. Indeed, it was a case of deja vu for the 50,000 fans packed into the Estadio Ciudad de La Plata tonight with the competitions more vaunted big hitters stuttering out the starting gate.
It didn’t look like it was going to be that way for Brazil in the first half, however, where they looked threatening and were unfortunate not to go ahead with chances falling to Alexandre Pato and Neymar.
For large portions of the half, Venezuela struggled to deal with the threat posed by the attacking quartet of Brazil, supplemented by both full backs and generally one of Ramires or Lucas Leiva pushing on from central midfield, and Brazil were unfortunate to not be two or three up by half time.
Cesar Farias sent his side out in a strict 4-4-2, with Miku staying high up the pitch alongside SalomÃ³n RondÃ³n, whilst the central midfield pairing of Tomas Rincon and Franklin Lucena tried to press Lucas Leiva and Ramires and isolate the Brazilian number ten, Paulo Ganso. Venezuela’s tactics bore fruit in midfield, where Ramires and Lucas Leiva were caught on the ball several times, but with the space left between the lines and no one tracking Brazilian runners, Brazil got behind Venezuela on several occasions.
Brazil, meanwhile, were sent out to press high and try and play a high tempo game and were largely successful at both in the opening stages of the game, overloading the Venezuelan defence and not allowing them a platform to build from. The one prominent feature of the the Brazilian performance in the first half however was how much their primary playmaker, Ganso, came in and out of the game in the first half and was largely anonymous in the second half, with the main threat coming from Neymar, Robinho and Pato. The laborious number ten became increasingly isolated as Ramires and Lucas were forced to play deeper while the performances of Neymar and Robinho became more superfluous as the game went on as Venezuela defended resolutely.
In the second half Venezuela managed to stifle Brazil a lot better and Brazil didn’t manage to create a single chance. The better, more compact, Venezuelan performance forced Mano Menezes’ hand and pushed him to bring on more experienced, but less dynamic players in Elano and the tall centre forward Fred, forcing Pato into a deeper role where he struggled to have much impact before being replaced by the young Sao Paulo winger Lucas Moura. Pato had struggled to have much impact in the second half, but it still seemed a brave decision to sacrifice, arguably, the best attacker in the squad whilst leaving on the enigmatic Ganso and, often frustrating, Neymar on the pitch. The changes could be seen as being more pragmatic, with Menezes yielding to a more percentage based game, but neither Elano or Fred were played to their strengths while on the pitch.
Mano Menezes faces a similar problem to Sergio Batista, in that he has to adhere to what the fans want, and following the pragmatism of previous coach Dunga, that is to play attractive, attacking, football and to bring through a new generation of players of this ilk. Just as there is pressure on players like Neymar, Ganso and Lucas Moura, so to there is on Menezes to harness the potential that has seen them so quickly become the bright new things of Brazilian football. But finding a balance to a side that has to utilise inconsistent flair players such as Neymar and Robinho, whilst finding a central trident that will bring the best out of Ganso whilst giving the side a good balance will be a difficult task for the former Gremio coach.
This is not to suggest that credit shouldn’t be given to Venezuela, who after struggling for the first half, were very good in the second half, in particular Tomas Rincon who was vital in eliminating the threat of Ganso and forcing Lucas Leiva and Ramires – then later Elano – into mistakes, and were a credit to themselves and will go into their next game knowing that a good result could leave them on the precipice of the knockout stages, which isn’t something that was expected of them before the competition.
Mano Menezes will have to find solutions to the problems in front of him before the Selecao play Paraguay on Saturday, while Cesar Farias will be hoping that another dogged performance can see them get another good result against Ecuador on the same day and go into the final game with a chance of qualification.