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FIFA World Cup: Defensive solidity makes Tite’s Brazil stand out

Zonal marking choked Mexico and showed why Brazil had conceded just once in four games in the FIFA World Cup.

football Updated: Jul 03, 2018 18:50 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Moscow
FIFA World Cup,Tite,Maicon
Brazil will play their FIFA World Cup 2018 quarterfinal against Belgium.(AFP)

One of the most enduring memories of the 2014 FIFA World Cup is the infamous semi-final between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte.

What was expected to be one of the most closely contested games of the tournament was effectively over within half-an-hour as the eventual champions put five goals past Brazil keeper Julio Cesar on way to a 7-1 drubbing.

The game, subsequently dubbed as Mineirazo (the Mineirao blow) in Brazil, highlighted the fragility of Brazil’s defence at the time.

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With a backline of Maicon, David Luiz, Dante and Marcelo in front of Cesar, the defence simply caved in to pressure from Germany.

Four years later, it has been some turnaround for the Selecao as they have cruised to the last-eight riding on what has inarguably been the best defence in the competition.

In four games so far, Tite’s side has conceded just one goal. And that goal, against Switzerland, may have been cancelled by another referee for a foul on Joao Miranda.

At the heart of Brazil’s backline are Thiago Silva and Miranda, both of whom turn 34 this September. If they go on to win the World Cup, this will be the oldest ever centre-back pairing to do so.

Prior to the tournament, Brazil had lost Dani Alves to injury. Then in the middle of it, their two first-choice full-backs – Danilo and Marcelo – picked up knocks. Those positions have been covered effectively by Fagner and Filipe Luis.

Monday’s win over Mexico was a perfect example of why Brazil will be difficult to break down. With Mexico looking to counter-attack, Brazil allowed Juan Carlos Osorio’s side space on the flanks at times but not in the middle.

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Like he has throughout this tournament, Casemiro assisted Silva and Miranda in manning the defence while Fagner and Luis both played key roles in snuffing out Mexican breaks.

Not dependent on last-ditch clearances, the Brazil backline closed down on Mexican attackers in the middle. There were few shooting opportunities throughout the game for the likes of Javier Hernandez.

Hirving Lozano often found himself surrounded by yellow shirts whenever he tried to cut in from the flanks.

In the initial minutes, there were a few moments of concern as Lozano troubled Fagner with his pace. As the game progressed though, Fagner had the winger’s number.

There seemed to be an air of tranquility with which Brazil went about their job at the back, allowing Neymar and his mates to strut their stuff at the other end.

It is hardly a surprise then that under Tite, Selecao have conceded just six goals in 25 games. If they are to go to the final, Brazil will be facing three sterner tests, starting with a game against Belgium in Kazan on Friday, but Tite’s side look in fine fettle for the same.

“We don’t man-mark. We always mark zones in every match,” Tite said on Monday. “We change things depending on the opposition but we always mark zones with aggressiveness and determination. People can criticise our style but it has worked for us. We’ve only conceded one goal.”

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To Tite’s advantage, he also has one of the world’s most sought after goalkeepers: Alisson Becker. Taken together, it is way different from the disjointed Brazilian defence from four years back that collapsed spectacularly in Belo Horizonte.

First Published: Jul 03, 2018 17:58 IST