As expected, Brazil finished top of their group. As expected, they won their Round of 16 game. As expected, they are in the quarter-finals. The mannerism of those successes though, is not quite what Brazil had planned for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. That smooth, fluid play we’ve grown up with from the Brazilians is certainly lacking. There was never any doubt that this Brazil side isn’t quite as threatening as we’d expect Brazilian sides to be, but they are certainly capable of getting victories. Everyone is well aware that Brazil has problems, some though seem to be surfacing at the worst possible time.
After two group stage victories and an exciting goalless battle with Mexico, Brazil came up against Chile in the Round of 16, full of confidence, backed by four goal joint World Cup top scorer (at the time) Neymar. There’s no shame in depending on one individual for goals, but this piece after the first 2014 World Cup game briefly discussed if and what toll it could take on Neymar.
Now Neymar by no means had a poor game, but his impact on the side and general performance certainly did take a hit. This was as a result of both physical excursion of the World Cup, and having to lead his side constantly in attack as the man they depend on in that third of the pitch. The dependence is a bit worrisome because Neymar isn’t the furthest man forward, that role lies with the centre-forward,.Neymar plays creator, contributor and goal-scorer from a more deeper position on the field.
The role of the furthest man in attack lies with Fred. The ex-Lyon striker has received a lot of criticism, and rightly so, for his performances with the Selecao. Though he remains the man Scolari trusts, he isn’t quite the striker who inspires confidence or terrifies defences as previous strikers from the five-time winners have done at World Cups. He did manage to score in the last group game, seemingly putting his critics to rest, but anyone who would not just look at the face value of goals but rather a more deepened analysis, will tell you that there is a problem with Fred.
Against Chile he was largely ineffective, failed to create chances for himself or allow others to significantly create ones for him and he lacked the typical centre-forwards instinct you’d want in your most advanced attacker at this stage of the tournament. He did take three shots, none of which managed to find the target. He completed a mere 8 passes, though you don’t expect too many passes from your centre-forward (stats via WhoScored)
Fred’s inability to impact as the man up-top has prompted many to suggest how Diego Costa would have been a far more suitable option for the role. This is true as players playing that role, despite failing to get regularly involved in attacks, have the ability to 1) take any chance they get and 2) disrupt the opposition defence’s organisation by their mere presence. None of this is something Fred has been capable of.
The man that replaced Fred somehow managed to do a worse job than the No.9. Atletico Mineiro’s Jo was subbed in by Scolari and his influence on the side was negligible. Hulk created a decent scoring opportunity for him in the opening minutes of his inclusion, which he failed to take, a decent low cross at the back post. While his only other real chance was a header from a corner which, though difficult, he could have done better with.
Jo and Fred played 120 minutes between them against Chile, as the most advanced striker, and neither of them managed to get an effort on goal. Yes Brazil did begin to sit deep, but the centre-forward’s role in the attacking third doesn’t change based on the system employed.
Brazil managed to survive a scare, saved right at the end twice by the post. First Pinilla struck moments before the end of the 120 minutes, before Jara crucially found the post in the last penalty. On another day, with lady luck shining down on Brazil’s opposition, they wouldn’t have got past this game successfully. They survived a scare, but their dependence on Neymar and weakness ahead of him in attack is worrying. They face an efficient Colombian side next, which could punish them lethally, as Chile failed to.