Newly appointed manager Jorge Sampaoli lead Argentina to a hard-fought 1-0 victory against Brazil in Melbourne on Friday in a FIFA international friendly, bringing to end a nine-match winning streak (eight World Cup Qualifiers and one Friendly) that the Selecao enjoyed since Tite took over from Dunga as the manager after the 2016 Copa Centenario.
|1||01 Sep 2016||Ecuador 0-3 Brazil||World Cup Qualifier|
|2||06 Sep 2016||Brazil 2-1 Colombia||World Cup Qualifier|
|3||06 Oct 2016||Brazil 5-0 Bolivia||World Cup Qualifier|
|4||11 Oct 2016||Venezuela 0-2 Brazil||World Cup Qualifier|
|5||10 Nov 2016||Brazil 3-0 Argentina||World Cup Qualifier|
|6||15 Nov 2016||Peru 0-2 Brazil||World Cup Qualifier|
|7||26 Jan 2017||Brazil 1-0 Colombia||Friendly|
|8||23 Mar 2017||Uruguay 1-4 Brazil||World Cup Qualifier|
|9||28 Mar 2017||Brazil 3-0 Paraguay||World Cup Qualifier|
While any Argentina-Brazil match is hotly contested, Tite went into this game with eight major first-team regulars rested as most of them were coming on the back of a gruelling season in various European top-flight competitions.
Starman Neymar was rested after yet another prolific season with Barcelona, ending his campaign as the top provider in the Champions League with 8 assists. Also rested were the Champions League finalists Marcelo, Casemiro and Dani Alves.
First choice goalkeeper Alisson, Liverpool’s marksman Roberto Firmino and Brazil’s regular centre-back pairing of Marquinhos (Paris Saint Germain) and Miranda (Inter Milan) were the other big hitters who were rested by Tite, as he wanted them to come recharged after vacation for the critical World Cup Qualifiers in August.
While Argentina fans may be hailing this as a new dawn, here are three reasons why the winning streak coming to an end might actually be a good thing for the five-time World Champions and current No.1 ranked international side on the FIFA rankings, Brazil.
History of complacency and over-confidence going into major tournaments
In the recent past, Brazil have gone into World Cups as FIFA’s number 1 ranked team, with an air of complacency and over-confidence surrounding them. In 2006, a team headlined by Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Adriano and Kaka went in as favourites, flying high after a dominant 2005 Confed Cup win, only to crash and burn in the quarterfinals against a Zidane-inspired France.
In 2010, the story repeated as Brazil went into the first World Cup in Africa as one of the favourites again, with Dunga’s charges having convincingly won Copa America 2007 and the 2009 Confederations Cup going into the tournament.
Injury played the villain as a side built around Kaka capitulated against Netherlands after the superstar was not at his best while playing with painkillers. In 2014, over-reliance on Neymar and the weight of expectation as hosts saw Brazil crumble 7-1 to Germany in the semi-final.
What these recent performances have ensured is that Brazil management will take a close look at the squad, plug the gaps and enter the 2018 World Cup, not with a sense of complacency, but a clear understanding of the team’s strengths and weaknesses and with game plans that ensure Brazil are prepared for all eventualities
Over-reliance on Neymar and the need for a Plan B
Luis Felipe Scolari’s 2014 World Cup side was built around Neymar and the man did not disappoint, scoring thrice as Brazil raced to the quarter-finals. However, the talisman succumbed to a back injury during a bruising quarterfinal win over Colombia, ruling him out for the rest of the tournament.
Scolari fielded the inexperienced Bernard in the semi-final against Germany and the till-then mighty Selecao crumbled to a humiliating loss. The lack of a Plan B and workaround when talismanic figures like Kaka (2010) and Neymar (2014) are injured/suspended has been a recurring theme of past Brazil World Cup sides and is a mistake Tite is not willing to make.
“The team must be prepared for various situations that may occur in the game. I talk about negative results, going behind on the scoreboard, adversity, knowing how to manage games. Working without Neymar is also preparation, yes,” the FIFA Club World Cup winning manager said.
Test of the understudies: Fringe players get game time
Tite got the opportunity to field (test) fringe players, especially untested talents like Shakhtar Donetsk’s Taison and Corinthians wingback Fagner. He also got the chance to give game time to the incredibly talented Douglas Costa (Bayern Munich) and Willian (Chelsea), both of whom were out of favour at their clubs this season.
Yes, mistakes were made. One of them being fielding two ageing centre backs in Thiago Silva and Gil in a high-pressing system and expecting Coutinho to run the show, in a like for like swap with Neymar.
Tite is sure to have realised that the contingency plan for Neymar is not a replacement player but a systemic change where the Barcelona winger’s workload gets distributed around 2-3 creative players like Coutinho, Augusto and Marcelo.
Tite has now field tested over 40 players en route to World Cup 2018 and has the chance of trying out more fringe players in the upcoming friendly against Australia on 13th June. With this, he will have gathered necessary field-tested data to make a final decision on the squad he chooses for the final round of World Cup Qualifiers starting in August.
Brazil are the first team to have qualified for the World Cup and sit pretty at the top of the South American World Cup Qualification table. However, it is important that they sustain this and their FIFA World Rank No.1 status to ensure high seeding in the pots for the 2018 Russia World Cup group stages, making their path to the knockout stages easier.
|Goals Conceded||Goal Difference||Points|
|1||Brazil* (Already qualified)||14||10||3||1||35||10||+25||33|
(Top 4 automatically qualify for World Cup 2018, 5th placed team has to play playoff against Oceania qualification winner)
|1||31st October||Brazil vs Ecuador|
|2||5th September||Colombia vs Brazil|
|3||5th October||Bolivia vs Brazil|
|4||10th October||Brazil vs Chile|