Brazil cruised past Japan in their opening match at the Confederations Cup.
Luiz Felipe Scolari aligned his side in a 4-2-3-1 that saw Fred lead the line. Neymar, Oscar and Hulk played behind the Brazilian striker, while Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo formed a midfield two. Dante, Hernanes and Lucas Moura started the match on the bench.
Alberto Zaccheroni decided to play Shinji Okazaki as his main striker, seeing that he also assembled his side in a 4-2-3-1. Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda, and Hiroshi Kiyotake played behind the striker, while Yasuhito Endo and Makoto Hasebe were instructed to protect the back four.
Brazil merited all three points based on their dominance in wide areas, ability to get into dangerous positions and their defensive work as a unit.
Heading into the match, many were skeptical about Brazil’s shape as unit going forward and defensively. There were two common themes when Scolari’s men didn’t have the ball – initially they worked hard to close down the ball in Japan’s third and they sat off in a 4-1-4-1.
Brazil prevented Japan from playing out of the back, as Zaccheroni’s men struggled to break past their initial press. Japan conceded possession in midfield several times and it mounted more pressure on the Japanese backline. When Scolari’s men dropped into a 4-1-4-1, Gustavo sat deep to protect the back four and sweep up danger in between the lines. With the front four interchanging fluidly, the two wide men, often Hulk and Oscar tracked back admirably to nullify Atsuto Uchida and Yuto Nagatomo’s threat from wide areas.
Zaccheroni’s men aimed to press higher up the pitch when Brazil played from the back, and they dropped into a 4-4-2. Okazaki and Honda pressed Thiago Silva and David Luiz, but Gustavo dropped in between the two centre backs to collect the ball and build the play. Gustavo was pivotal when Japan aimed to press the Brazilian defence, and it was surprising that a Japan player didn’t attempt to close the Bayern Munich midfielder down. Gustavo controlled the tempo of the match when Brazil played from the back, and he played positive forward passes that initiated Brazil’s attack.
Japan also pressed the midfield when Brazil had possession of the ball – they minimized the space between the lines and Scolari’s men struggled to receive the ball in that space. The reason why Brazil were getting into better positions was due to their tactical intelligence and their use of width.
Brazil score early…TWICE
An interesting feat in the match was the manner and timing of Brazil’s goals – Neymar scored in the third minute and Paulinho added to the lead in the 47th. Frankly, history was on their side seeing as they failed to lose in 19 Confederations Cup matches when taking the lead.
Both goals emanated from crosses from a Brazilian fullback – Marcelo’s cross connected with Fred for the opener, while Dani Alves found Paulinho for the second. It was shocking defending on both goals as Fred and Neymar were left unmarked, while Paulinho was allowed to receive the ball and have a shot. Zaccheroni’s men started both halves sluggish and suffered the consequences – it was just interesting to see both goals stem off of direct balls from the Brazilian fullbacks.
Zaccheroni decided to play Okazaki over Ryoichi Maeda as the lone striker, which raised a few eyebrows pre-match. Although Okazaki has played in that position a few times for Stuttgart this season, the Japanese attacker has never made a significant impact when handed the opportunity. Okazaki’s movement off the ball is relatively decent, so Zaccheroni deciding to field a fluid front four to expose Brazil on the counter attack was logical, but Japan lacked a focal point going forward.
Okazaki was anonymous during his time as the main striker – with Japan forced to play down the middle, Thiago Silva and David Luiz made easy work of the Japanese attacker. Japan was unable to launch quick counters, as Brazil repeatedly disrupted their break, making cynical challenges to halt the counter attack. Zaccheroni’s men were frustrated by the constant fouls, seeing as it looked like the only plausible attempt to create legitimate goal scoring chances. Japan couldn’t find openings through the middle or in wide areas – besides shots from distance and set-pieces, quick counter-attacks was their best option.
Both sides possess influential wide players that can make a difference when given the opportunity, so the battle in wide areas was always going to be pivotal. As stated earlier, Nagatomo and Uchida didn’t have an impact on the match due to the defensive work of the Brazilian attacking three and when Gustavo or Paulinho drifted over to the flanks for defensive cover.
On the other hand, Brazil’s fullbacks were allowed to surge forward – despite Alves’ abysmal crosses, both Marcelo and Alves had decent matches and were involved in Brazil’s opening goals. Japan’s attacking three allowed the fullbacks to surge forward and create overloads – quick intricate passes in the final third and Brazil’s numerical advantage on each flank isolated Japan’s fullbacks and encouraged Scolari’s men to penetrate wide areas.
The 21-year-old Chelsea midfielder was Brazil’s best player throughout the match, which is quite surprising considering he’s played over 60 games this season. Oscar was finding space between the lines to receive the ball, and playing incisive passes in the final third.
Defensively, the Brazilian was breaking up play in the midfield and preventing both Japan fullbacks from pushing forward. What makes Oscar an asset to this side is his versatility – he was drifting into central areas to play incisive passes, outwide he skipped past defenders and contributed to overloads, and defensively he nullified one of Japan’s main strengths. That wasn’t all though, Oscar dropped deep into the midfield to provide the defence an extra passing option, as well as helping retain possession.
The Chelsea midfielder capped off a good performance by providing a wonderful assist for Jo in the final moments of the match. Oscar’s impressive performance on the day displayed his tactical awareness, pace, technical ability, and his creativity.
Both sides played identical systems, but Brazil nullified Japan’s strengths and won the tactical battle.
“We weren’t able to demonstrate our abilities. We’ve only shown about 50 percent of what we can do,” Zaccheroni said
Scolari’s fullbacks look to be his main weakness going forward, but on the day both men contributed to a goal. Meanwhile, they nullified the wide threat of Japan’s fullbacks, along with finding a balance in midfield. They were the better side on the day, but Scolari’s men will face much sterner tests in the future, and that’s when we can properly assess this young Brazilian side.