Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Leandro Damião On Target as Brazil Beat Ghana

If London really is the seleção's home from home, they could hardly have chosen better visitors than Ghana. One small corner of the capital was awash with colour and song last night, as two of the world's liveliest sets of fans converged on Craven Cottage. The match - the latest in what will soon seem like a never-ending series of pre-World Cup friendlies for Brazil - was largely entertaining, but told us rather little about the progress of Mano Menezes' side.

The view from the press box.

Brazil 1-0 Ghana
The big news in the lead-up to yesterday's game had been the recall of Ronaldinho Gaúcho, who has been in imperious form for Flamengo of late. The veteran began the match on the left of a front three, with Neymar on the right and Leandro Damião the target man. In midfield, Fernandinho earnt another start alongside Lucas Leiva, whilst Paulo Henrique Ganso was restored to the side as playmaker. The latter's evening, however, was quickly curtailed; he limped off within the first ten minutes. That prompted an alteration in Brazil's midfield shape; the two-one triangle was reversed, with both Fernandinho and substitute Elias operating in shuttling roles just ahead of Lucas.

By that point, Ghana has already built up a head of steam. The Black Stars had plenty of joy down the channels early on, forcing Daniel Alves and Marcelo to play rather more cautiously than they would have liked. Dnipro colossus Derek Boateng single-handedly dominated the midfield zone during the opening half an hour, snuffing out nascent Brazil attacks and using the ball with admirable economy. The seleção only managed one meaningful attack in that period, but Leandro Damião's cool lob was disallowed for offside.

Do the bigode! Leandro Damião celebrates his first goal for Brazil.

The defining moment in the match occurred in the 34th minute. Ghana leftback Daniel Opare - whose walking of a disciplinary tightrope up to that point was truly circus-worthy - burst into the Brazil box, only to be dispossessed by Lúcio when shaping to shoot. The Internazionale defender launched straight into his extinction of the last dinosaur routine, prompting Mike Dean to issue a second yellow to Opare. If that decision - which was greeted with universal incredulity around the ground - didn't quite spell the end of the game as a contest, the opening goal certainly did. Fernandinho's magnificent pass released Leandro Damião, who slammed home his first international goal on the stroke of half time.

The second half was notable only for its one-sidedness. The introduction of Hulk initially created rotating trio of players (Hulk, Neymar, Ronaldinho) behind Damião, but this gradually turned into a flat line as Ghana's lack of attacking threat became manifest. With Daniel Alves and Marcelo overloading on the flanks, Brazil at times had as many as six men in the attacking third, with precious little space in which to operate. As Mano Menezes noted in his post-match press conference, this was simply attack vs. defence, and as such provided negligible insight into the workings of either side.

Ron on the run.

One man, however, seemed to be enjoying himself. Ronaldinho came alive in the second period, peppering the Ghana goal with a series of free-kicks and indulging in some crowd-pleasing tricks towards the end. The skeptics, of course, will take this as a telling microcosm of the player's post-Barça years; that Ronaldinho might generate a wealth of Olés when a side is dominating possession in a friendly, but simply can't cut it anymore when the chips are down. One would be mistaken, however, to write the 31-year-old off so hastily. His first half performance, although admittedly indifferent, was that of a man who will need time to re-acclimatise to the pace of international football, rather than one whose career has reached the point of no return. I, for one, hope to witness a few more moments of buck-toothed genius in the next couple of years.

(Photo credits; (1) Writer's own, (2) & (3) Mowa Press.)

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