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Neil Humphreys
Friday, Jun 27, 2014

Sports

Brazil better get better

The New Paper | Neil Humphreys | Friday, Jun 27, 2014

Brazil's Neymar scores from a penalty kick during the 2014 World Cup opening match between Brazil and Croatia at the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo June 12, 2014.

The Selecao knocked over Cameroon 4-1 to top Group A yesterday morning (Singapore time), but cynicism remains here.

Neymar continues to illuminate the tournament but even he cannot outshine the shadows that loom large over the Brazilian camp.

Luiz Felipe Scolari admitted that he still needs to play repairman ahead of the Round of 16 clash against Chile. Here are five areas that might need tinkering.

1. Brittle at the back

Both Marcelo and Dani Alves are Rolls-Royces going forward and farm tractors going back.

Alves was particularly susceptible to the Cameroon counter-attack, with wily coach Volker Finke clearly zeroing in on Brazil's right side.

Hulk's dereliction of defensive duties only further increased the pressure on Alves.

Marcelo also has a soft spot for a swashbuckling dash past the dugouts, which rouses the crowd but runs the risk of raising hell in his own penalty box.

Thiago Silva papers over more cracks than an unscrupulous interior designer and is often the rock caught between some very hard places.

David Luiz is a crowd favourite here and rightly so. He signs shirts at training sessions, poses for more photos than arguably any other footballer at the tournament and throws just about everything he's wearing to fans after games and training sessions.

He's a class act off the pitch. On it, he's still a little cocksure.

Silva has always been on hand with the mop and bucket as Luiz spills over into midfield, but his incomparable resources are being stretched.

Greater defensive discipline from the back four is a must or a Chile wind may blow through the gaps.

 

2. Paulinho can't make it

He sputtered for Spurs. He struggled for the Selecao.

Paulinho was not only anonymous against Cameroon, he was also overrun.

The Africans deployed a third man in Stephane Mbia in central midfield and Paulinho foundered.

He was sinking fast, threatening to take Luis Gustavo, on the left midfield, with him. Fernandinho's introduction at half-time brought balance to Brazil's right side.

Scolari is a respected, much admired coach, but renowned for playing favourites. He's a Paulinho apologist even though the midfielder's efforts for Tottenham last season were dwarfed by Fernandinho's title-winning antics for Manchester City.

If Fernandinho was good enough to slot into the world's most expensive team, he's equal to the task of holding hands with Gustavo.

 

3. Hulk doesn't smash

There is considerable sympathy for Scolari's dilemma. He favours 4-3-3, but Hulk doesn't defend enough.

With his burly, battering ram of a physique, Hulk should've charged at the gates. He's an intimidating presence, but displayed all the muscular threat of a pussycat.

Brazil's balance of play was so one-sided, the Brasilia pitch seemed to be sloped towards the left, with the ball always sliding towards Neymar on the other side.

Hulk tip-toes into nosebleed territory if he ventures past the halfway line. He believes that defensive duties are best left to others.

Even Neymar, usually preoccupied with winning games on his own, backtracked more frequently than Hulk.

Considering the guy has one hell of a name to live up to, he's pretty low on the heroics.

 

4. Wrong, said Fred

Contrary to popular belief, Fred is a respected, even admired professional here.

Girls find him an attractive, engaging and loquacious interviewee. Guys acknowledge the work ethic.

Fred is an unwitting victim of circumstances beyond his control.

He's 30. He plays for Fluminense and he's the best man for the job; he's the only man for the job.

Call it the Helder Postiga syndrome. He gets the gig because no-one else better showed up.

Perhaps unique for a Brazil coach, Scolari's selections are strait-jacketed by a dearth of strikers with genuine international pedigree. Fred toiled against Cameroon and earned himself a tap-in goal in the second-half.

He tried. And he tried the patience of the dugout. His limited attributes often diluted the attacking dynamism of Neymar and Oscar once he received possession.

Brazil slowed down. When Fred takes the ball with his back to goal, the Selecao invariably stutter.

But Scolari is nothing if not stubborn. He believes in a focal point in the final third; a totem pole up top for his samba boys to dance around.

But Neymar didn't so much play with Fred as he played around him against Cameroon. That's likely to continue against Chile.

 

5. Cautious crowd

Criticising Brazilian supporters borders on blasphemy here. They expect to reach the final. They are Brazil.

They are fully aware of their defensive deficiencies and their over-reliance on Neymar, but they still expect to reach the final. They are Brazil.

When Cameroon equalised, the mood turned morgue-like almost instantly. And once Neymar was benched and saved for Chile, the party petered out.

But the fans must not falter in the knock-out stages. The Brazilian wobbles will endure. There will be scares against the swaggering Chileans. That's when the Selecao should benefit most from home advantage.

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