Menezes’ Brazil start with impressive victory

August 11, 2010

Brazil's starting line-up

One suspects that getting the Brazilian public onside with good attacking football was Mano Menezes’ first priority as Brazil manager, with a result in his opening game second on the list. With a 2-0 win over the US, he managed to achieve both.

Dunga’s reign as manager will not be remembered fondly by the majority of the Brazilian public – even before the World Cup exit he was disliked for the perceived negativity in his side’s football, and for constantly selecting his ‘favourites’ ahead of established stars like Ronaldinho, and younger, emerging talents such as Neymar and Ganso.

He was criticized too strongly (and too personally at times) because for the vast majority of his tenure as coach, Dunga’s Brazil played a very successful and not particularly defensive brand of football. His fascinating formation was of interest in itself, and he created one of the most disciplined and tactically-aware international sides in history.

But even those few who were fond of Dunga’s Brazil will have to admit that Menezes-spec Brazil’s opening performance was a wonderful exhibition, that saw the side playing a more ‘classic’ Brazilian type of football. It may have been a friendly, and it may have been against a US side who seemed to be playing at half their usual pace, but it was still a hugely impressive win.

Four out of 23 remain

When announcing his squad, Menezes (more on him here) retained only four players from Dunga’s 23-man roster that competed in South Africa. Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Ramires and Robinho were all named – of them, only Robinho was considered part of Dunga’s first XI for their opening game against North Korea.

Instead, he turned to a new generation of Brazilians. The Santos pair of Ganso (a central playmaker relatively similar in style to the injured Kaka) and Neymar (a skilful wide forward) were the most eye-catching inclusions, that guaranteed the immediate backing of Brazilian fans. Milan’s Pato also returned to the fold, playing ahead of Robinho, Ganso and Neymar.

Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva joined Ramires in the middle, whilst Benfica’s David Luiz and goalkeeper Victor of Gremio were handed debuts alongside more experienced names at the back.

An extra attacker

The most notable aspect of the display was simply that Brazil attacked in greater numbers than in South Africa. There, it was generally the Luis Fabiano-Kaka-Robinho triangle that made things happen – if that wasn’t working, they would generally play it back into midfield and start again. Here, they still tried to make triangles in the final third, but the addition of another forward gave them more options – with three attackers, there’s one potential triangle, add in another and you have four potential triangles.

There was also width on both sides, which stretched the game and was a major factor in Brazil’s attacking play. Both wingers looked to come inside and create space for overlapping full-backs, though this occurred more on the right, as Robinho drifted inside and Alves made typical forward charges.

However, it was Andre Santos’ forward run that created the first goal, with his excellent cross finding Neymar (who had temporarily switched with Robinho) and his header went back across the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner. Pato thought he had doubled the lead with an extremely similar goal coming from the opposite side – but the referee disallowed the goal as Pato had impeded Tim Howard.

Mano Menezes

Although those chances were created thanks to the fairly basic method of getting players wide and telling them to centre the ball, Brazil were at their most dangerous with quick one-touch passing in central positions. The understanding between the front four was wonderful at such an early stage – a romantic would put that down to Joga Bonito, although a more accurate explanation is the fact that the Neymar-Ganso-Robinho axis spent the first five months of 2010 playing together at Santos.

Attacking possession football

Ganso played deeper than Kaka did at the World Cup – perhaps logical considering he has one additional forward to work with, and dropped into midfield to look for the ball, it was difficult for him to become free in build-up play, thanks to the US’ use of a double pivot consisting of Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu.

This essentially created a 3 v 2 situation in midfield and Brazil found it very easy to keep possession of the ball. The player with most time was Lucas, who had a solid game simply receiving and distributing, and getting through his defensive work well (although there was little threat from the centre of the US midfield). Alongside him, Ramires played more of a box-to-box role, getting forward in possession to create something more like a 4-1-4-1 system. Indeed, with Ganso dropping deep, Ramires often found himself ahead of the 20-year-old – a situation that was most obvious when those two combined and Ramires slipped Pato through for the second.

In truth, it could have been many more. Brazil had plenty of chances in the opening period of second half, with Robinho hitting the post and Pato blasting into the side-netting from close range. The inevitable substitutions meant the game lost its momentum, but Brazil had done their job in the first half, and Menezes had done his simply with the team selection.


We should not get too carried away – the US were playing the game half-heartedly, and yet still created chances. The defence was not as solid as under Dunga (as we would expect from Menezes’ first match in charge), and Lucas and Ramires weren’t tested properly defensively.

But regardless, this was the Brazil that so many know and love – with two new superstars. Ganso and Neymar’s quality shone through and justified the hype. But unlike many international friendlies, this game was not about individuals seeking to impress, it was about Menezes setting out his stall. “What we saw tonight was based on players’ individual qualities and a good tactical organisation. This is how coaching works; organise this aspect and let the players bring their best onto the field”, he said after the game.

New faces, but the old Brazil.

Full highlights below.

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