Chile has been a force to be reckoned with throughout the world cup – they manhandled a disappointing Spanish team, held there own against the Netherlands (who seems to be the strongest team so far) and they’ve played with grit and determination throughout the tournament. Their tenaciousness was truly evident today, as they disrupted the Brazilian attack all game.
In fact, Neymar didn’t seem comfortable in the first half when he arrived in the box with the ball… He kept trying to bring the ball back to his right foot which was very surprising considering that he’s proven to have a strong left foot strike (Spain is very aware of this – youtube Neymar’s goal against them in the confederations cup in the final last year). Chile’s defense held strong today against Brazil’s attack, but more importantly, their attack held their own against Brazil’s defense, and this had a lot to do with their midfield. Aturo Vidal might be the best box-to-box midfielder in the world – and quite honestly, he’s a linchpin in Chile’s lineup that a team like Brazil could have really benefitted from – because let’s be honest, Gustavo, Fernandinho and Oscar simply didn’t show up today and aren’t players that the Brazilian attack can run through.
That said, Brazil need to find more of a rhythm considering their level of talent. The fact that a player like Lucas didn’t make their national team is quite disturbing, especially considering that Oscar had an extremely quiet year at Chelsea but still managed a starting World Cup spot (as a midfielder, rather than his more effective position on the right wing where he played best for Chelsea in his first season).
Brazil failed to emphasize the importance of creativity in the midfield, and instead have relied far too much on on moments of brilliance from Neymar this entire World Cup – and while that’s worked to an extent, this is the first time in a long time that a Brazilian squad lacks many players with that Brazilian Neymar-esque flair. In the past, Brazilian teams have showcased a balance of flair and grit, but this year has been more about the flair of one man (Neymar) as opposed to that of the entire team. This was nowhere more evident than in their game against Mexico where it was proven that Neymar can’t do it all on his own.
In the second half of today’s game against Chile, players like Bernard and Lucas (had he made the team) should have been backing up Neymar in the midfield – especially because Oscar continues to be a non-factor (and let’s be honest, his first goal of the tournament should/could have been defended better).
Chile dominated the second half of the game, Neymar didn’t have as much space, and Jo was incapable of easily finishing off of a great cross from Hulk in the box… Brazil has never been known to have a bulky striker spearheading their attack… This is something that needs to change – I’d like to see Neymar up top, with Hulk on the left and Oscar on the right… In this way, Neymar is truly the focal point of the Brazilian attack (although the one concern I’d have is that he would not be able to roam around as much as his current role allows). That said, it’s still a risk that I believe would pay off dramatically.
Extra time in today’s game was quite interesting, with Vidal out due to fitness, Chile lost some of it’s offensive prowess, and this ultimately lead to Brazil’s domination in the extra half hour. But, as we all know, despite that domination – the game ended at the penalty spot – where, despite the admirable performance of both teams, Brazil won.
Reflections: Neymar has played admirably at the Word Cup, if he brings Brazil all the way, and can continue scoring where Fred and Jo cannot – he should be a candidate for the Ballon D’or (especially with the lack of support he’s getting from Oscar).
One thing that can be taken away from this game is that the tournament as a whole will not be a cakewalk for Brazil, and they cannot afford not to play at the top level for the rest of it.