Brazil 0-0 Paraguay: Brazil fail to score in 120 minutes – then miss all their penalties too
Paraguay are through to the semi-finals of the Copa America, having drawn all four games so far.
Gerardo Martino took the surprising decision of dropping Nestor Ortigoza, bringing in Victor Cacares in the centre of midfield. Roque Santa Cruz dropped out, with Nelson Valdez making his first start of the tournament.
Mano Menezes kept his XI from the 4-2 win over Ecuador, meaning Robinho retained his place on the right.
Score this one on points, and Brazil would be the winners. More possession, more shots and more clear goalscoring chances meant they were in the ascendency for the majority of the game.
Martino’s tactics took Brazil by surprise early on. More accustomed to sitting back and soaking up pressure, Paraguay pressed Brazil heavily in the opening minutes, denying their midfielders time on the ball, and also paying particular attention to Lucio, to prevent him bringing the ball out of the back.
The decision to omit Ortigoza made sense in this respect, because he probably wouldn’t have had the mobility and energy to close down as well as Caceres did. The downside, though, was that Paraguay were fairly clueless when they actually had the ball, with a complete lack of imagination from the centre of midfield, and little contribution from Marcelo Estigarribia on the left.
In contrast to Paraguay, Brazil were much more relaxed without the ball. Their front four made little attempt to win the ball back, and Brazil had to build moves from deep.
In terms of formations, Paraguay continued their 4-4-2 / 4-5-1 shapethat depended upon the right-sided player, Valdez, acting as a second forward when moves developed. Brazil’s right-winger also played narrow, with Robinho drifting inside and playing some good combinations with other attacking players, as Brazil tried to play through the centre – the area where their two goals in the previous meeting with Paraguay came from.
The key battle was deep in Paraguay’s midfield, where Cristian Riveros did a good job nullifying Ganso. As we saw in Brazil’s opening game against Venezuela, take Ganso out of the equation in the 4-2-1-3, and Brazil are a broken side, with no link between midfield and attack. The first half never looked likely to produce goals.
Brazil improved hugely after half time. Paraguay’s pressing was no longer so evident, and Brazil passed much better as a result. They got the ball to the wide players on the run, and produced more chances, despite lacking cohesion between the front four – it all seemed improvised rather than organised.
That aside, there was a lack of tactical interest in the second half. Neither manager wanted to change things, though considering the fate of Chile’s Gary Medel and Uruguay’s Diego Perez, we should give credit to Martino for withdrawing Enrique Vera, who had picked up one yellow card and was in danger of another.
The only tactical changes made things more narrow, disappointingly – Hernan Perez, a winger, came on but played broadly through the middle behind Barrios, whilst Fred replaced Neymar with Pato moving left. Brazil’s tactics became a bit confused at this point, and Fred didn’t have the influence he exerted on his previous substitute appearance. Still, Brazil were the better side in the second half, and some wonderful saves from Justo Villar kept Paraguay in it. The tactical interest, however, was minimal.
The double red card – Lucas and Antolin Alcaraz – should have opened things up, but instead simply forced both sides to play more defensive football. Menezes reacted by bringing on Elano for Pato to strengthen the midfield, whilst Martino, having used all three subs, put Dario Veron at centre-back and substitute right-midfielder Edgar Barreto at right-back, with Perez moving to the right wing in a 4-4-1. Both sides sat back and didn’t take advantage of the extra space.
The least exciting of the four quarter-finals, where Brazil couldn’t even manage to score from four penalty kicks.
Menezes has made some errors in this competition, but it’s difficult not to feel some sympathy for him here. The decision to pick Robinho (the only real choice he had to make) was broadly a success, and it’s difficult to fault his tactics for this particular game considering how many chances his side created, plus the fact that Julio Cesar rarely looked in danger of conceding.
Martino continues to use the same formation, but he showed here that he has the ability to vary his tactics. Paraguay were more proactive in the first half, but when they could no longer close down, they came under sustained pressure.