Brazil 3-1 Ivory Coast: Brazil always in control

June 20, 2010

Classic Brazil under Dunga. A comfortable victory, won by controlling the ball when they have it, and controlling the space when they don’t.

Brazil kept the same first XI as in the first game – a proper XI, numbered 1-11. Sven-Goran Eriksson made a single change – bringing back Didier Drogba after his elbow injury, with Gervinho (surprisingly) dropping to the bench.

Initially the game was low-key – the Ivory Coast dropping deep with ten men behind the ball, in their 4-3-3 shape that was 4-5-1 for most of the game. Brazil’s passing was neat, simple but rarely penetrative, with Yaya Toure doing a good defensive job on Kaka, and Robinho struggling to receive the ball in space.

Eriksson will doubtless be criticized for being negative, but that was probably the right approach for this game. Brazil love exploiting space in behind, and throwing caution to the wind and pushing the full-backs forward would have been suicidal. The wide players should be praised for their defensive duties – the breakthrough against North Korea always looked likely to come from Maicon or Michel Bastos, but today those two were relatively subdued.

Brazil defend well

Brazil were excellent in the way they defended when Ivory Coast looked to break forward. The Ivorians generally did this through the wide players looking to come inside, but because Saloman Kalou and Aruna Dindane were defending deep and picking up the ball well inside their own half, Gilberto and Melo were usually goalside, and doubled up on the threat. Melo covers the left, Gilberto the right. When either closes down the man on the ball, the other looks to get between the ball and the Brazilian goal, meaning there is generally double cover ahead of the defensive line.

This can sometimes leave Brazil exposed if the ball is shifted across the pitch, but the Ivory Coast rarely did this. The number of times their wingers took on the Brazilian full-backs was disappointing, and by looking to play in Drogba to hold up the ball, they were rarely able to build attacks – when Drogba received the ball to feet, he was surrounded by a ’square’ of Brazilians and didn’t have any support.

Brazil go ahead

The Robinho-Kaka-Fabiano triangle for the first goal

Brazil are tremendously dangerous when they manage to get Luis Fabiano, Robinho and Kaka within 10 yards of each other. Their interplay is always fantastic – generally two or three one-touch passes to work the ball into a goalscoring opportunity. Fabiano loves goalscoring opportunities from the right-hand side of the box, and here he smashed it into the top corner to put Brazil 1-0 up.

Brazil are an excellent side when ahead. The use of the two holding players means they find it very easy to keep possession of the ball – sides generally aren’t able to press high enough up the pitch to shut down Gilberto and Melo, and both are very assured on the ball, rarely looking for anything other than the simple pass. Of course, when teams do push up and close them down, that creates space somewhere else on the pitch. If the central midfielders move up towards them, it leaves Kaka or Ramires free and gives Brazil space to exploit – if the wide players come inside, the Brazil full-backs are free. Brazil’s central midfielders are in there for defensive awareness, but more important than tough tackling is the way they simply don’t let the opposition have the ball.

The Robinho-Kaka-Fabiano triangle for the second goal

The second goal, just after the break, was Luis Fabiano doing what he does best – bundling his way past the defenders to thump home. Although it was a solo goal (and he may have used his arm to control the ball) it was again notable that the Kaka-Robinho-Fabiano triangle ended up on the right-hand side of the box when the goal went in.

Ivory Coast rarely create

Eriksson used the only real major option available to him from the bench – Gervinho, who immediately showed more skill on the ball than the man he replaced, Aruna Dindane. He got at Michel Bastos (not a natural left-back, remember) and that might be an issue later on in the tournament. Maicon generally gets cover from the right-sided midfielder, but Bastos is sometimes left isolated against his winger. It was a cross from that side that found Drogba at the far post – he nodded just wide, in the Ivory Coast’s only real chance when it was still a contest.

Elano effectively ended the game with his side-foot from Kaka’s low cross. Brazil saw the game out well, although for the second time in as many matches, they conceded a sloppy late goal that smacked of a lack of concentration. Both goals have also been from a longish ball over the defence into a heading position – rather surprising, considering both Lucio and Juan are excellent in the air.

Kaka’s suspension for the final group game will present an interesting situation for Dunga, in terms of who to replace him with – Kaka’s absence was probably the nightmare situation for Brazil (if it has been for a crucial game, which it is not), with the obvious replacement Julio Baptista a different type of player. Elano’s injury (hopefully not tournament-ending) would be less of a problem in terms of personnel, with both Dani Alves and Ramires able to replace him – although with Elano’s positive performances so far, it would be a blow to lose him.


This game marked Brazil’s true arrival in the competition. They defended well and kept the ball excellently, but they also showed attacking flair and neat interplay, even if their passing was somewhat disappointing. The Ivory Coast pushed forward more than North Korea, so Brazil had more space to exploit, so they attacked with more flair and scored more goals.

The Ivory Coast’s tactics were not particularly bad – they defended in numbers, got men behind the ball and created excellent chances for Drogba. The exclusion of Gervinho was a very odd decision, but today they came up against a very good Brazil side who allowed them little chance to make their mark on the game. Sven hasn’t done a bad job.

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