Neymar produced two moments of brilliance that steered Brazil past Mexico and into the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup.
Luiz Felipe Scolari made no changes to the starting lineup that defeated Japan in Brazil’s opening match. Fred led the line in Scolari’s 4-2-3-1, with Neymar, Hulk and Oscar playing behind the Fluminense striker. Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho formed a midfield two.
Manuel De La Torre made a few changes to his starting line up, but stuck with Javier Hernandez upfront in a 4-2-3-1. Gerardo Flores joined Giovani Dos Santos and Andres Guardado behind Hernandez, opposed to playing at right back – while Jorge Torres Nilo slotted in at left back, pushing Carlos Salcido into the double pivot ahead of Jesus Zavala.
This was a relatively poor match that had an identical pattern to Brazil’s opener – Brazil score an early goal, then drop deeper allowing their opponents to dictate possession, but find a way to end the match with a Jo injury time goal.
Brazil starts well
For the second consecutive time, Brazil score a goal and dominate the opening 10 minutes of a match. They frantically pressed the ball carrier when they lost the ball, and retained possession with ease. Luiz Gustavo continued where he left off against Japan, dropping between the centre backs to receive the ball and dictate the tempo of the match.
Neymar was running freely at defenders, the Mexican widemen failed to track the fullbacks run and they couldn’t keep possession of the ball. Ultimately it led to a Neymar goal that was similar to his opener against Japan. This time it was Dani Alves cross that wasn’t properly cleared and Neymar connected with the ball perfectly on the volley. It was the third goal Brazil has scored that was created by a fullback playing a direct ball – this shows how important it is for Marcelo and Dani Alves to get forward in Scolari’s system.
Brazil’s will to win the ball, Gustavo being allowed to set the tempo, and Neymar’s opener gave Scolari’s men the ideal start to a match.
Mexico without the ball
One of the issues De La Torre’s men faced against Italy was their naivety towards closing down the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi. Mexico learned from their mistake against the Italians, and made sure to press Luiz Gustavo – the Bayern Munich midfielder controlled the tempo of the match against Japan, helping his side play from the back.
Mexico dropped into two banks of four, somewhat of a 4-4-1-1 shape, which saw Hernandez and Dos Santos work hard without the ball. The Mexican attackers pressed the two Brazilian centre backs, and when Luiz Gustavo dropped deeper, Dos Santos pressed the Bayern Munich midfielder. This was key because it prevented Brazil from dictating the match – Mexico pressed the midfield so there was limited space for Oscar, Paulinho and Hulk to drop into, and Brazil relied on quick breaks and distribution from their centre backs. David Luiz often pushed forward to provide a pass into the midfield – thus far he’s shown why Scolari has selected the Chelsea defender over Dante. David Luiz provides a balance – he’s a fairly decent passer of the ball for a defender, and can be a huge asset when Brazil’s holding two are unable to play from the back.
Also, De La Torre stuck with the Flores/ Hiram Mier combination on the right to cope with the threat Neymar and Marcelo pose. Frankly, Neymar was always going to have an influence on the match as he drifted all over the field, but Marcelo and Dani Alves were relatively quiet going forward after the opening 10 minutes. Flores sat narrow in the midfield and it allowed Marcelo to surge forward, but after the goal he stayed wide to prevent Marcelo from getting into advanced positions. Guardado and Flores tracked the Brazilian fullback’s runs throughout the match, and the presence of Dos Santos left them cautious about getting into advanced positions.
Compared to their opener against Italy, De La Torre’s men improved without the ball – they prevented Brazil from playing their style of football, their attack and production in the final third was dull.
Mexico’s attack/Dos Santos
Once again Mexico struggled to create legitimate goal scoring chances when they had possession of the ball. It’s been an issue that De La Torre’s men have faced for awhile, as they have been dismal in their opponents final third. Mexico did have a game plan going forward – they intended on finding space behind Brazil’s attacking fullbacks and to find Hernandez in the 18-yard box. The main problem with this plan was that Brazil possess two centre backs that have an aerial and a strength advantage over Hernandez, in David Luiz and Thiago Silva, and the Brazilian duo coped with most of Mexico’s crosses from wide areas.
Giovani Dos Santos had another influential performance for Mexico – going forward he caused the Brazilian back line a few issues and his general play has improved dramatically. Dos Santos drifted laterally from flank to flank to create overloads in the final third, and he also isolated full backs in 1v1 situations. Dani Alves and Marcelo aren’t the greatest full backs defensively, and are arguably Brazil’s main weakness. Dos Santos occasionally exploited that, and De La Torre made a substitution later in the match to highlight this issue. His defensive work improved from the first match, as he didn’t allow Luiz Gustavo time on the ball to play inventive forward passes. Finally, he found spaces in central areas to receive the ball and run at defenders – it’s key to note that the final ball was lacking, but Dos Santos provided penetration and flare to a lethargic Mexico attack.
Many question whether Neymar would be able to perform outside of the Brazilian league, and for the umpteenth time, he silenced those critics. His early goal highlighted his highly-rated technique, but also his exceptional finishing.
Throughout the match, Neymar was running at defenders, allowing Marcelo to push forward, and occasionally creating chances for his teammates to increase the lead. He provided a lovely chip that left Hulk 1v1 with the goalie, but he flashed his shot wide – then his wonderful free-kick met Thiago Silva in the box, but the PSG defender’s goal was waved off, as he was rightfully called offside.
Neymar was a constant threat when he was on the ball and in injury time, he produced a moment of individual brilliance – he slipped past two defenders with a sublime move, and provided a pinpoint pass for substitute Jo, who scored his second goal of the tournament off the bench.
Neymar was the star on the night – he was three players in one. he was a creator that created overloads for Hulk and Dani Alves, an intelligent dribbler that got the best out of defenders (Jo’s goal), and a finisher that once again provided a wonder goal, and was unfortunate not to add more to his tally.
Scolari made the same changes he did in Brazil’s opener against Japan – he was rewarded with another Jo goal, but only on change was made to change the flow of the match. Hernanes replaced Oscar, as Brazil became a 4-3-2-1 – Scolari wanted his men to gain control of a match that was slipping away from them so he decided to add an extra man in midfield. Hernanes played a few forward passes from midfield, but due to Mexico’s attacking changes, Scolari’s attempt to control the tempo of the match failed as Brazil sat deeper without the ball.
De La Torre didn’t move away from a 4-2-3-1 with his three changes – instead, he introduced more direct options going forward. Herrera went into midfield to provide positive passes, pushing Salcido to the left – while Pablo Barrera was placed on the right side of Mexico’s attacking three. Barerra terrorized Brazil’s left side, and may have been the player De La Torre has missed in this system. His reluctance to play a centre forward with Hernandez is peculiar, especially when Mexico has been dire in the final third. Barerra beat Marcelo 1v1 on several occasions, and provided a few dangerous balls into the six-yard box, but Brazil’s back line was able to cope with the danger. The Cruz Azul winger provided pace and quality on the right flank – he got into dangerous positions during his appearance and was positive going forward.
Brazil allowed Mexico to control the second half, and De La Torre’s substitutions improved his side towards the end of the match, but their lack of penetration and killer instinct led to their downfall.
Brazil dominated the opening minutes, but their level of intensity dropped, and they allowed Mexico to grow into the match – luckily for Scolari’s men, Mexico possess their own tactical issues, which prevented De La Torre’s side from causing Brazil any harm.
Brazil weren’t at their best on the day – they failed to take dictate the tempo of the match, but were rarely threatened by Mexico throughout the match. Its been known that defensive solidity would be their main strength heading into the tournament and Scolari’s men have yet to concede a goal in the tournament. Brazil’s main test comes Saturday as they take on Italy in a match that will decide the group winner – both sides will be looking to win the game, as they would prefer to avoid Spain, but Scolari’s men will need to be better if they intend on doing so.
Mexico see their Confederations Cup campaign come to an end in horrific fashion – their general play was decent due to Brazil’s lackadaisical approach, but these performances have become a reoccurring theme. Many had high hopes for this Mexican side going into the 2014 World Cup – now qualification isn’t even guaranteed based on recent performances. The pressure is on Manuel De La Torre – although his side tend to play decent football, they offer nothing in the final third, and have failed to get the best out of their best player Javier Hernandez – who often finds himself isolated. Tactically many issues need to be addressed, and it’s time for Mexican supporters to question whether De La Torre is capable of bringing Mexico to the next level.