It may not have been the a performance as exciting as the one they produced against the USA, but yesterday Mano Menezes' seleção ran out comfortable 3-0 winners over Iran in Abu Dhabi. On a night of débuts for Brazil, it would be three relatively experienced campaigners, Daniel Alves, Alexandre Pato, and Nilmar, who would grab the goals to see off the Persian stars.
Having left Neymar out of the squad for disciplinary reasons, and with Paulo Henrique Ganso out injured, Menezes was forced to reshuffle his personnel in order to maintain the 4-2-1-3 formation that had served him so well in New Jersey. Philippe Coutinho, the ex-Vasco playmaker currently making waves in Italy with Internazionale, was handed a first start, while the mercurial Carlos Éduardo was brought in to compliment Robinho and Pato in attack. Ramires and Lucas reprised their deeper midfield roles, and the defence to was unchanged from the USA game.
A sleepy Brazil were given a scare right at the outset; Iran forward Mohammad Gholami found the back of the net, only to see his effort (correctly) ruled out for offside. It would take a moment of brilliance from Daniel Alves to shake Brazil into life; the Barcelona full-back arrowed home a sumptuous free-kick from 25 yards after Pato had been brought down. Alves celebrated by raising four fingers, alluding to the number of years for which he's represented his country. The seleção almost added a second in the following minutes, but Pato and Robinho were denied by Khosro Heydari and the post respectively.
The fervent attacking, however, would die down well before the interval. Robinho, entering the changing room, acknowledged that the seleção were somewhat off the pace; "we have to improve and score a couple more...it's so hot...that's why we're playing at such a low tempo." Elias, a player Menezes always relied on to provide energy in the Corinthians midfield, entered in place of the subdued Coutinho, but Brazil started the second half in the same uninspired manner that they'd ended the first. Iran were again unlucky not to get on the scoresheet; Hashem Beikzadeh's effort came back off the inside of the post.
When Brazil did begin to find an attacking foothold, it was Alexandre Pato at the centre of the action. The Milan forward saw his close-range shot saved after a perfect André Santos cross, before testing Iran 'keeper Rahmati with a drive from distance. Menezes threw on more fresh legs in the shape of Internacional starlet Giuliano, former Santos midfielder Wesley, and centre-back Réver (all of whom were making their seleção débuts), and would have been pleased to see his side improve in the closing stages. After some intricate passing instigated by Elias, Pato would finally hit the back of the net; smashing into the top corner with the minimum of fuss.
In added time, André Santos once again escaped down the left and fired accross the face of goal for the onrushing Nilmar (another second half substitute) to complete the scoring. In truth, the result was one that flattered Brazil, who were far from their best for long periods at the Zayed Sports City stadium. Nonetheless, Menezes will be pleased with his side's ruthlessness, and the promising form of many of his players; André Santos and Alexandre Pato in particular really built on the excellent starts they made against the USA. In addition, the match provided valuable experience for the five débutants on show, all of whom will be hoping to cement a place in Menezes' long-term plans.
It remains unclear whether the former Grêmio coach will continue to snub many of Brazil's more senior players (Kaká, Lúcio, Maicon, Júlio César), but one thing is for certain; the youthful, attacking football that the seleção produced in New Jersey, and in patches yesterday, is providing an effective tonic for Brazil's post-World Cup woes. Parabéns, Mano!
(Photo credit; Kamran Jebreili.)