Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Hope Springs Eternal as Mano's New-Look Seleção Beats USA

Firstly, a caveat. Clearly one would be a fool to read too much into a friendly match, especially one from which many of Brazil's more senior players were excused. Such games are usually occasion for experimentation, and often serve as a poor watermark by which to judge a team's true progress.

With that out of the way, let me cut to the chase; BRAZIL WERE AWESOME YESTERDAY! Mano Menezes' young seleção turned in a fine performance against the USA, immediately banishing memories of Dunga's bureaucratic side to a locked drawer in the national psyche. This was an impeccably realised post-World Cup mission statement, borne of the desire for a return to creative, daring football. Brazil won 2-0, but the result was almost immaterial; the goals were merely cherries on the cake.

Plenty of new faces in the team photo.

Mano Menezes has spoken in recent days about his desire to implement the 4-2-3-1 formation so widespread in South Africa, but his side in New Jersey was closer to a 4-2-1-3, with Neymar in particular holding his position in attack alongside Alexandre Pato. The central midfield pairing of Lucas and Ramires dictated the pace of the game, allowing Paulo Henrique Ganso plenty of freedom to provide for the attacking trio. Robinho, starting on the right of the front three, also had the freedom to drift inside, and provided the focal point for much of Brazil's best play.

Despite a shaky start, in which the USA ought to have been awarded a penalty for Thiago Silva's foul on Landon Donovan, Brazil soon got into their rhythm. Pato dragged wide after some delightful control, and Neymar also brought a smart save from Tim Howard. With some neat passing, it looked only a matter of time before the away side scored, and so it proved. Robinho released André Santos on the left, and the full-back's wonderful cross (just one of countless he put in on the night) was nodded home by Neymar at the far post. Pato thought he'd made it two soon after, but his effort was correctly ruled out for a foul.

Duck tales; Alexandre Pato celebrates his goal.

As the half drew to a close, Howard had to be on his guard to deny both Robinho and Neymar; the latter a stinging effort after an intricate period of build-up play. Despite the best efforts of the 'keeper, though, Brazil would go into the break with a two-goal advantage. Ganso was presented with time and space to find Ramires, who in turn slipped a clever ball between defenders for Pato to run onto. The Milan forward kept his cool, rounding Howard and passing into the empty net.

Although Brazil wouldn't increase their lead in the second period, it was not through lack of trying. With the half barely 30 seconds old, the pace of the Brazilian attack again proved too much for the USA defence to handle; Pato, though, could only find the side-netting after Robinho's break. The seleção would continue to be frustrated, both by an excellent display from Brad Guzan and by the woodwork. It was the latter that foiled firstly Robinho, whose guided shot rebounded to safety, and then Ganso, who's rasping drive rattled off the post. Guzan saved from Neymar after some delightful footwork from the youngster, before producing a wonder-save when substitute Carlos Éduardo looked certain to score.

Mano looks on calmly during his first game in charge.

The USA looked to have pulled a goal back through Michael Bradley, but the midfielder's header was disallowed for offside. It was a rare moment of concern for the Brazilian defence, who were impressive throughout. Marshalled by the impressive Lucas, the centre-back pairing of Thiago Silva and David Luíz (somewhat of an unknown quantity in Brazil until now) gelled instantly; the latter's intelligent positioning and comfort on the ball was a fine match for the former's more physical presence. Grêmio 'keeper Victor had precious little to do throughout, but claimed one or two dangerous dead balls without difficulty.

The game, disrupted somewhat by a wave of substitutions, tailed off towards the end, but the message had already been engraved in the minds of the spectator; Brazil, the real Brazil, is back. The performance was a heady cocktail of revolution and restoration; a display which marked both a deep rupture with Dunga's seleção and a consonance with Brazilian football's glorious back-story. Yes, it was just a friendly, but I for one am full of hope for the next four years. Valeu, Mano!

(Photo credits; (1) & (3) Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images/AFP, (2) iG/AFP.)

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