Brazil stretched their good record against African teams to the third straight World Cup. And it happened through a large dose of pure magic from Neymar, fittingly at a stadium named after Garrincha. In terms of size, Neymar too can be called a “little bird” as Garrincha was.
Neymar has been Brazil’s one-stop solution, his brilliance papering over problems at the back, the poor form of Hulk, Paulinho and Fred. True, Fred scored but he may have been marginally off-side while heading in. Brazil will only hope this gives him the confidence for at this point that is what he needs most. Hulk had an ordinary game, his quality of delivery and decision-making in the front third not what it is expected of a player expected to add width to the team that is aiming for an unprecedented sixth World Cup. And it was only after Paulinho was replaced by Fernandinho that Brazil seemed to have more bite in attack.
The tendency of David Luiz and Dani Alves to go into tackles early too could hit the team especially because their next opponents Chile have players who can hurt if given space. Once each against Cameroon, Luiz and Alves did that and it was the right-back’s inability to stop Allan Nyom that led to
Cameroon’s equaliser. Luiz was ball watching as Joel Matip tapped home. The goal came during a sustained spell of domination from Cameroon during which they forced a slew of corner-kicks and once hit the upright. Brazil had 60% possession in the first half but Cameroon had as many shots on goal as them --- nine.
Credit to Scolari for refusing to buckle under pressure and back his team. All of Brazil, it seemed, wanted Fred benched but Sciolari announced at the pre-match media conference that he had full trust in his players. Skipper Thiago Silva too backed Fred, saying even if he doesn’t score he would make space for Oscar and Neymar. Paulinho, Scolari accepted, hadn’t reached the level he had during the Confederations Cup but that, as he has been saying about the team, is because improvement is a gradual process.
Without Paulinho’s help, Brazil seem more vulnerable to counter-attacks especially because they have such attacking full backs. Why only Dani Alves and Marcelo, even David Luiz loves going forward.
The one player who has reached the level of the Confederations Cup is Luiz Gustavo. It was his pass that fetched Neymar’s opening goal, more importantly he has also been to shield the team’s defence. In this land of football artistes, he is the Dunga kind of player: you realise what you are missing only when he isn’t there. Gustavo has been consistent in three games, perhaps the only player other than Neymar and Julio Cesar. The other revelation in this game was Oscar’s effort to scrap for the ball in the midfield. Scolari sure has got this team to do his bidding.
With the Cameroon defence preferring a high line, Brazil were right in getting their centre-backs to try and float balls into space. Also, Cameroon’s midfield to often didn’t play close enough to their defence and that led to Brazil getting space in a crucial area. Brazil had a much better second half having been given the lead by the genius of Neymar in the first. Not only did he wrong-foot Cameroon goalie Charles Itandje twice before the interval, he also fired a volley that the goalie barely parried. Twice he sent the ball one way and turned the other linking up with Oscar for a move that ended with Hulk couldn’t finish. Neymar is really enjoying this World Cup. It is important for Brazil that he does till the middle of next month.