Brazil 3-0 Chile: Dunga prevails over Bielsa in the tactical contest of the tournament

June 29, 2010

The starting line-ups

A fascinating game of two vastly different styles – with one clear winner.

Brazil were without both Felipe Melo and Elano through injury, and so Dunga chose Dani Alves on the right of midfield, with Ramires in a deeper, left-sided role. The rest of the team was as expected.

Marcelo Bielsa was missing the suspended Gary Medel and Waldo Ponce, the two first-choice centre-backs. He welcomed back Carlos Carmona from suspension, however, and was also able to call upon the fit-again Humberto Suazo upfront. Mark Gonzelez started on the left, and Jean Beausejour played the enganche role, with Mati Fernandez on the bench.

The most important feature of the game was pressing. No other international sides have as much focus upon pressing as these two, with Chile in particular defined almost entirely by their aggressive tactics in winning the ball high up the pitch, and denying the opposition space. They didn’t hold back from the start of this game, closing down all over the pitch and forcing Brazil into hurried clearances and long balls towards Luis Fabiano, and just like against Spain, Chile dominated the opening 20 minutes of the game, and even had more possession – something very rare against Brazil.

Their pressing in midfield was so strict and so intense, that it sometimes seemed like they were man-marking almost the entire Brazilian team. Every player had a man to close down – the diagram onthe left shows it well. Carmona was on Kaka, Vidal was on Alves, Beausejour was on Gilberto. The two wingers took care of Brazil’s full-backs, whilst Contreras and Fuentes dealt with Luis Fabiano.

One zone decides the game

The only problem was in the zone patrolled by Mauricio Isla, on the right of Chile’s midfield. His natural man to close down was Ramires, but this was complicated by Robinho’s drift into deeper positions, where Jara felt unable to track him. This meant that Jara effectively passed him on to Isla, which in turn left Ramires in more space than Bielsa would have liked, and he got more time on the ball than any other midfielder. Brazil were effectively adding another man to their diamond midfield and converting it into a pentagon, which overran Chile’s diamond through sheer numbers, whilst creating a surplus of Chilean defenders picking up Luis Fabiano.

The battle that decides the game: Jara (pink) has moved forward, Robinho (blue) hasn't tracked him all the way. Jara is not played in, and the move breaks down...

This seems to be an issue with Bielsa’s system. By so strictly and obviously wanting a spare man at the back (2 v 1 or 3 v 2, but never 2 v 2),  and switching between 4-2-1-3 and 3-3-1-3 accordingly, he has allowed his last two opponents to give him a problem, as they both fielded players (David Villa and Robinho) in left-sided roles where it’s difficult to categorize them as a forward or as a midfielder. Chile’s system seemed slightly stuck in how to deal with a player like this, and it’s no coincidence that Robinho and Villa got a goal and an assist apiece. Granted, Spain and Brazil were the pre-tournament favourites and always likely to beat Chile, but their performances do offer a decent model for how to beat Bielsa’s formation.

Robinho v Jara

That right-sided zone was also key going in the other direction. Chile were attacking with their usual six players – the three forwards, the enganche, and the two wing-backs. This can often overpower opponents, but Brazil were generally defending with seven men solidly in front of their own goal – the back four, and the three more defensive-minded midfielders – Gilberto, Melo and Alves. This meant Brazil generally had a one-man advantage in the defensive phase of play, and Chile struggled to break through.

...suddenly, Brazil have got the ball forward, and Jara is way out of position, leaving Robinho in space to run at the Brazilian defence...

For a period in the first half, the whole match revolved around the game of chicken between Jara and Robinho when Chile had the ball. Jara wanted to get forward and join the attack, and was testing out Robinho’s defensive willingness. The first time Jara went forward, Robinho tracked him all the way. The second time he went, Robinho let him go free, and Chile had an overload on their right-hand side. The third time he went turned out to be the pivotal moment of the game.

Jara had steamed forward to provide an overlap, but was not used, and instead a poor cross was hit into the box. It was easily cleared towards Fabiano, who won the ball and knocked it down for Robinho, who hadn’t bothered tracking Jara. Suddenly, Brazil had their three flair players running at just three Chilean defenders, Bielsa no longer had his spare man at the back, and the ball was in the net with remarkable speed.

This came three minutes after Brazil had opened the scoring. That goal, a very simple header from a corner, where Juan used two of his teammates as a shield to get a free jump, could have been considered unfortunate. It was vaguely against the run of play, it was from a set-piece, it was a fairly unstoppable header. Chile could convince themselves that it didn’t reflect on the way they were set up, but the second goal was the real killer, because it underlined the fact that Chile’s all-out-attack style was playing right into the hands of Brazil.

Injuries help Brazil?'s three versus three at the back, and Bielsa is without his spare man...

Usually, injuries to first-choice players are a manager’s worst nightmare, especially in a World Cup. But today, Dunga may have been assisted by the fact he didn’t have Melo or Elano available. Not because they are bad players or would have had poor games, but because Dunga was ‘forced’ to turn to Alves and Ramires, two incredibly energetic players with tremendous stamina levels. Against Chile’s high-intensity, high-pace style, this was vital in making sure Brazil were able to compete physically, and in that sense they were probably better options tonight than Elano or Melo would have been.

Indeed, Alves and Ramires’ running and positional discipline caused Chile problems throughout. Those two essentially played as the ’shuttlers’ on either side of Brazil’s lopsided diamond, and meant that Chile’s wing-backs were forced to come inside to close them down, making their own diamond very narrow. Usually, the Chilean wing-backs are concerned with opposing wide players, and the fact they had to play much more centrally meant their wide, expansive game was much more difficult to maintain.

Full-backs key

Another area where Dunga played this game well was by telling his full-backs to push on forward. Chile’s use of high wingers often means opposing full-backs are subdued and fulfil exclusively defensive roles, but Maicon and Michel Bastos were both brave and forced Gonzalez and Sanchez into positions in their own third, far away from being able to influence the game in an attacking sense. Maicon was typically cavalier and linked up well with Alves, but Bastos had an equally good game – both when Brazil were attacking, and when Sanchez was running at him with the ball. Indeed, of the many positives Dunga can take from this game, the fact that the left-hand side of his defence was solid throughout (there have been questions asked) is an important one, for Juan and Bastos were two of the best players on the pitch.

...the Robinho-Kaka-Fabiano triangle plays its way through the Chile defence, and it's 2-0.

In the second half, many of Brazil’s most dangerous attacks came from ’surprise’ players. Lucio galloped forward more than once to prompt a counter-attack, whilst Ramires did the same. Brazil’s final goal came from a driving run from the Benfica player (something Melo never would have done) that opened up Chile’s side incredibly easy. It was almost as if Chile were so focussed on stopping the four Brazilian attacking players, that they hadn’t even considered the prospect of an attack from deeper. It’s also no coincidence that Lucio and Ramires were two players who had a decent amount of time and space on the ball, despite the Chilean pressing.

Chile tried and tried, but still couldn’t manage a goal. They probably deserved one for all their attacking intent, but ultimately they only succeeded in proving what a fantastic defensive side Brazil are. Dunga removed Kaka and Robinho for two defensive players, Gilberto and Kleberson, and Brazil shut up shop and saw the game out.


A wonderful game contested by two fascinating coaches. Both Dunga and Bielsa have created sides who play a distinctive brand of football, and have constructed formations that, on their own, have provided hours of debate. It was great to see them up against each other on the world stage, and it was also an open, attacking game – proving that tactical contests don’t have to be defensive, negative and cagey.

Chile are out. They were never going to win the World Cup, but they’ve won many friends for their exciting, attack-minded game. This is a wonderful young side that has a tremendous future, and hopefully the performance of the South American teams at this competition will spark a greater interest in football from that continent, and consequently, greater coverage of Chile.

Ultimately, a lack of individual quality was probably their downfall. They played an astonishingly attacking game, and yet only scored two goals in four matches. Suazo was not 100% fit, Sanchez didn’t show his best form, and all too often Chile got into the final third and seemed to run out of ideas.

Brazil look more impressive with every game. Chile’s system was perfect for them, but they took full advantage – it’s hard to draw any negative conclusions from this display.

Then again, at this stage four years ago they were looking fine, and then they crashed out with a poor display against France in the quarter-final, so the superlatives should wait. But they start Friday’s game against Holland as favourites, and should also be considered favourites to win the competition.

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