Holland 2-1 Brazil: poor defending from set-plays costs Dunga

July 2, 2010

The starting line-ups

Brazil are out. A dominant first half, a shocking second half – Holland took advantage of their defensive mistakes to record a famous victory.

We know the starting line-ups both managers like to field, because both give their first XIs the numbers 1-11. In this match, however, injury to Elano and Joris Mathijsen meant we saw both No 13s from the start – Daniel Alves played on the right of midfield, whilst Andre Ooijer was a late change after Mathijsen was injured in the warm-up.

The game started at a slow tempo, with Brazil dominating possession of the ball and Holland struggling to cope with their movement. As outlined in the preview, the biggest problem when facing Brazil is the positioning of the two wide players.

Holland dealt with Alves by getting Giovani van Bronckhorst very tight to him at all times. With Alves drifting into deep and central positions, this created a huge hole in Holland’s left-back position. Maicon was the man to exploit this, and although Dirk Kuyt did a decent defensive job against him, sometimes it just wasn’t possible – few can keep up with Maicon over a 60 yard sprint.

How did they deal with Robinho? Well, they didn’t, hence the amount of time and space he got for Brazil’s opener. The problem throughout the half stemmed from the lack of defensive awareness of Arjen Robben, who showed no desire in tracking Michel Bastos’ runs into the final third. This meant that Gregory van der Wiel was too concerned with Bastos, Kaka and Luis Fabiano were troubling the centre-backs, and Robinho was left free far too often. A misunderstanding between van der Wiel and Robben seemed to left him go, and his out-to-in run from the left met Melo’s straight pass wonderfully.

Holland problems

In truth, Holland were awful in the first half; there were problems with all four of their attacking players. Kuyt was forced back by Maicon, and was up against the world’s best two right-backs. Wesley Sneijder was also tending to drift into that zone, and Brazil passed him between Gilberto and Alves with ease – he rarely got the ball in the final third. Robben was ponderous and predictable on the ball, always looking to come inside and running into traffic, as Melo doubled-up against him, and others quickly followed. Robin van Persie, meanwhile, was up against two centre-backs and had very little support, making it difficult for him to influence the game.

That said, Holland were playing the game reasonably well in terms of overall strategy. They were not chucking men forward to try and create overloads, they were instead holding their defensive shape and making it difficult for Brazil to counter. Brazil only constructed one good move after the goal – a wonderful sweeping attack involving the Kaka-Robinho-Fabiano triangle that ended with Kaka curling the ball towards goal – Maarten Stekelenburg produced a good save.

Second half switches

So what change after half-time for Holland? In terms of basic formation, absolutely nothing. But they were noticeably brighter, playing at a quicker tempo and with much more movement and interchanging of positions. There seemed to be a concious effort to practically give up on attacking the side where Brazil had Maicon-Alves-Gilberto-Lucio, and instead target the side with Juan-Bastos-Melo – often identified as Brazil’s weak point (although they did well against Chile).

This meant that Robben was involved in build-up play much more than in the first half, and although he produced little in the way of goalscoring opportunities, he stretched the play and drew fouls from Bastos. Indeed, the Lyon player was lucky not to be sent-off for his succession of poor tackles, and the final offence resulted in the free-kick for Holland’s equaliser.

Uually, Holland form a triangle on their left-hand side with van Persie, Sneijder and Kuyt/van der Vaart, but this was disbanded after half-time. Instead, van Persie started to work the right-hand channel, Kuyt made very central runs, whilst Sneijder stayed in the middle rather than drifting to the left. Still at 0-1, he found himself in acres of space on the edge of the box when Brazil’s players had been sucked into their left-back position, but his first touch was poor, and his shot even worse.

Defeat means this will be Dunga's final game as Brazil manager

Basic goals conceded

Bastos’ foul on Robben gave Brazil a free-kick, which they worked short to Sneijder, who was not closed down by Bastos, and had time to swing a cross into the box. Confusion between Julio Cesar and Melo resulted in the ball brushing Melo’s head and sailing into the far corner, and Holland were level.

A Julio Cesar mistake is rare, but not as unprecedented as some are making out – earlier this year he was looking slightly shaky, and in a Serie A match away at Fiorentina, ZM noted, ‘Fiorentina equalized just two minutes later with a scrappy goal from a corner kick. Julio Cesar had been troubled by crosses and set-pieces all day and again looked uncomfortable.’

The goal completely changed the game – Holland looked more composed, more confident and more relaxed. They won a cheap corner, again in Brazil’s left-back zone – Robben played it in, Kuyt darted ahead of Fabiano at the near post to get a flick-on, and Sneijder headed in from the edge of the six-yard box. Brazil have become renowned for their excellent defending of set-pieces, and so for them to exit the competition because of a goal like this will be the most difficult thing for Dunga to accept.

Indiscipline costs Brazil

Holland were pressing much better in the second half, giving Gilberto and Melo little time on the ball, and frustrating Brazil overall. Melo’s personal frustration got the better of him, and his petulant stamp on Robben earned him a deserved red card. Melo’s disciplinary record is atrocious and he continually lets his side down in this respect. Few Brazil players can expect a warm reception when they return home, but bowing out of the tournament with a red card and an own goal means the most vilified player will surely be the Juventus player.

His departure was another lift for Holland. Dunga tried to change things by putting on Nilmar – but withdrew Fabiano. Why did he give up on his system? The entire shape is based around a central target man, and whilst Fabiano clearly wasn’t having his best game, this was when Brazil needed him on the pitch. The numerical disadvantage meant they started hitting long balls, which Robinho and Nilmar were never going to win, and their biggest threat came from corner kicks, where Fabiano also would have been useful. The closest they got to scoring was when Kaka’s run and shot was blocked by Ooijer, who grew into the game and had a good second half.

But Brazil looked lost – they’re not used to chasing games, and their low-tempo, counter-attacking style didn’t lend itself to a desperate late fightback.


Two things cost Brazil – discipline and defending set-pieces. The former was a problem in giving away too many free-kicks, and more obviously in Melo’s red card. The latter, a hallmark of the ‘unBrazilian’ thing Dunga’s Brazil supposedly did well, was crucial.

And if you concede goals, end up trailing, and play a style of football like this, it’s not easy to get back into the game. Brazil’s lack of flair has been criticized before the tournament, and will doubtless be criticized after this defeat. We have seen, however, some wonderful moves from Brazil earlier on in this competition – the problem is that their attacking flair relies on defensive solidarity. That wasn’t evident today, and cost Brazil going forward.

Credit must go to Bert van Marwijk for a change of emphasis after half-time, both in terms of Holland’s defending (heavier pressing) and attacking (focussing it down the right). It wasn’t a drastic change in formation or personnel, but it effectively (a) nullified Brazil’s strengths and (b) exploited their weaknesses – good tactics if you’re the underdog.

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