How To Beat Brazil (and win the World Cup)

Snippet from a real conversation:

So…who do you think will win the World Cup?


What about Argentina, Italy, or England?


No chance for anyone else?

Nope. Brazil are too good.

It was after my 4th such conversation that prompted me to ask – how the hell do you beat Brazil?

This is the answer to that question. As tacticians, football coaches have gameplans for every opponent. Similarly, each team should have a plan for Brazil – not because they will definitely be in the final, but because if you can plan (and raise) your game to beat the champions, you are good enough to get through to the final yourself.

Let’s get started.


Brazil combines excellence in attack and defense to put almost all opposition on the defensive. In effect, Brazil are forcing other teams to react to their strategy – in other words to play by their rules.

The first step to beating Brazil is to attack them – that might seem difficult considering that Brazil are deadly on the break, so to beat Brazil you have to either change the rules (i.e. disrupt their natural game and force them to play on your terms) or play better than them at their own high-paced, all-attack game.

The second option is possible, but the first is a lot easier to accomplish. Here we’ll do both – create a team strategy that will be able to change the rules of the game and go all-out in attack as well.

Know Thy Enemy

Brazilian Team:

GK – Dida
RB – Cafu
CB – Lucio
CB – Juan
LB – Roberto Carlos
CM – Emerson
CM – Ze Roberto
RM – Kaka
LM – Ronaldinho
ST – Ronaldo
ST – Adriano

Don’t be fooled by the poor showing of Ronaldo and Adriano – these guys need just one opportunity to start performing again and after that they are unstoppable. In Kaka and Ronaldinho, Brazil have two of the world’s best attacking midfielders. Emerson and Ze Roberto provide defensive strength to the midfield, whereas Lucio and Juan, despite being top-class centre backs, are also known for their runs into the opposition’s half.

Full backs Cafu and Carlos have been termed as the weak points in the Brazil side, but on this stage they are both capable of raising their game and using their experience to nullify any ‘speed’ advantage the opposition might have. Dida, their stopper, is easily one of the best in the business.

As a team Brazil love to attack but are also very good at defending, which is something other teams forget at their own peril. In fact Brazil are by far the best counter-attacking side, using their speed and the magic quartet to create goals.

Now that we know what we’re up against, let’s see what sort of team we will be bringing to this matchup.

The Team

I’ve picked two players for each position, mainly because you can adopt different strategies against Brazil based on the type of players you pick. There were only two requirements for players to be included in this team – they had to be the best in their position, and their team had to be playing in the 2006 World Cup.

Team Formation

Formation: 4-1-4-1

This formation can play 4-5-1 (with the defensive midfielder going forward) or 4-3-3 (the two wingers pushing forward) depending on the need of the game. The lone striker upfront can be a problem, but by using the wingers and the supporting midfielders intelligently you could easily create space for him (or he could play target man and create chances for others). With long range goals the rage this summer, having strong midfielders and a rampaging striker are crucial to beat Brazil.


GK – Iker Casillas, Petr Cech
DEF – Nesta, Terry, Ferdinand, Cannavaro, Gallas, Lahm
MID – Essien, Gattuso, Ballack, Riquelme, Gerrard, Pirlo, Robben, Cole, van Persie, Lennon
ST – Rooney, Henry

The squad is a bit biased towards the Premiership (and towards England). Having said that, these players are either class in themselves (Henry, Casillas, Rooney), or they have performed well in the World Cup so far (Lahm, van Persie, Lennon, Robben).

I would prefer Casillas in goal to Cech mainly because of his experience (of playing in Europe and of playing behind a weak defense). Cech is still an option because of his height, and you would be stupid to put him out of the reckoning based on his form in the last two years. Buffon misses out – too old.

Defense – You don’t want a situation where Ronaldinho, Ronaldo or Adriano skips through the centre backs to score. You need strong and fast defenders, and that’s why form players like Carvalho and Marquez miss out. I’ve also chosen Lahm over Puyol, because we need creativity down the flanks and Lahm is great going forward. The right-back position will probably be taken by either Ferdinand or Nesta, considering that these two are far better going forward than Terry / Cannavaro / Gallas.

Midfield – Lots of options, considering that there are 5 slots. Defensive duties go to Essien and Gattuso, and while I’d choose Essien, Gattuso’s experience makes him an ideal sub. Central midfield duties are taken up by Ballack and Gerrard – two of the best attacking midfielders around (Lampard misses out because of his poor tackling and recent poor finishing). They can, however, be replaced by Cole, Riquelme and Pirlo depending on whether the game plan is to attack or to build slow attacks and frustrate the Brazilians (I prefer the former).

At the wings we have a problem. Players like Figo and Ronaldo are good, but one is too old and the other too mercurial. That’s why I’ve gone for one quality only – express pace. Robben, van Persie and Lennon have oodles of pace, and they will be critical to beating Brazil.

Up front, Rooney is a shoe-in because the game is likely to be very physical, although if you are playing 4-3-3 Henry would be a better option.

Match Tactics

Attack The Flanks

The Brazilians have a big weakness – they lack width. The problem is not so much that their fullbacks are getting old (they are still the best), but that playing an attacking 4-4-2 (that can turn into a 4-3-3 or 4-2-4) means that you play a lot down the center of the park and not on the wings. While Brazil have enough quality to neutralise any team who is strong on the wings, they are still susceptible in that area.

Playing down the flanks also puts Ronaldinho and Kaka under pressure – neither are big on defending, which means that on an attack you can easily have 6 on 6, which is not bad for a team playing Ballack, Gerrard and Rooney.

Dominate The Midfield

Ze Roberto and Emerson are the ‘engine-room’ for Brazil. You can quite effectively block them out of any attack by man marking them (using Ballack and Gerrard), and that leaves space for someone like Essien to burst through and bring any one of Lennon, Robben and Rooney into play.

If you can shut down the midfield for any team, they will either have to adapt to play your game or lose the plot entirely.

Now we’ve strengthened the midfield and planned attacks down the flanks, let’s look at where else we can improve the team.

Set Pieces

You just cannot concede set pieces inside your own half. At times it is unavoidable, but special precautions must be taken to ensure that Kaka and Ronaldinho do not win any free kicks. If you want to tackle them, get in when they have the ball (or get the ball first).

Strong, Fast Defense

This is the foundation Brazil is built upon, and this is something that must be incorporated in any team that wants to beat Brazil. You have to shut them down – no scoring opportunities, no space for runs, nothing at all. Their are two ways to do that – first, get your best defenders into play, and two, keep the ball.

Keep Possession

Argentina’s 6-0 mauling of Serbia is the perfect example of how a team can totally overrun quality opposition simply by keeping the ball. The less chances Ronaldinho and Kaka have on the ball, the less dangerous they will be.


So we finally line up, the world’s finest against the world champions, and after 90 minutes Brazil win 2-0 with Ronaldinho and Kaka scoring a scorcher each.

There are some things you just can’t plan for…

[tags]Brazil, World Cup, World Cup 2006[/tags]

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