Brazil 3-0 Japan: Brazil start the Confederations Cup with an encouraging performance

June 16, 2013

The starting line-ups

Brazil scored at the start of the first half, at the start of the second half, and in the final minute.

Luiz Felipe Scolari named his expected side, unchanged from the XI that defeated France 3-0 last week.

Alberto Zaccheroni left out Ryoichi Maeda, using Shinji Okazaki as the lone striker, with Hiroshi Kiyotake playing on the right of midfield.

Brazil got off to a tremendous start through Neymar’s brilliant strike from the edge of the box and controlled the majority of the game.

Overall pattern

After a quick start to the contest, this slowed down into a much slower game, partly because Brazil had taken an early lead, and were often content to retain the ball in deeper positions – much to the crowd’s annoyance, at times.

This was also a slightly odd tactical battle – while this is technically a competitive tournament, the sides generally treat the Confederations Cup primarily as a warm-up for the World Cup. Managers focus more on developing cohesion in their own side than reacting to the opposition – which often results in enjoyable, open games of football.

Neymar’s opening strike

In recent years, there have been two distinct types of classic openings to international tournaments – either a stunning underdog triumph (Senegal v France 2002, Greece v Portugal 2004) or an opening goal for a jubilant host nation (Germany 2006, South Africa 2010). This was the latter – Neymar looks set to be Brazil’s main man next summer, the attacker who possesses the individual skill to compensate for Brazil’s lack of a world-class number nine, or a classic number ten, and his long-range, rising shot was a great way to start this tournament.

The nature of the goal meant it was something even more significant than a moment of pure individual brilliance, however. The chest lay-off from Fred was basic, but it demonstrated exactly why he’s playing upfront – to provide a central target for crosses, and to knock the ball down for oncoming attackers from deeper positions, especially Neymar. At Santos, Neymar generally cut inside from the left to link up with a classic number nine (most obviously Ze Eduardo)  - it feels like he depends upon a static, functional number nine to occupy defenders.

It’s also worth noting Marcelo’s driven cross – left-back is one of the few positions up for grabs at the moment, with Filipe Luis also a contender, but Macelo performed well throughout this match.

Brazil possession

From then, Brazil seemed happy to retain the ball in deep positions. With Neymar’s goal arriving after just three minutes, it’s difficult to know whether Brazil were planning this type of football anyway, or whether it was a reaction to the goal, to calm the tempo and establish their superiority.

With Okazaki and Keisuke Honda dropping off and preventing Brazil’s centre-backs playing passes into the two deep midfielders, Luiz Gustavo dropped into the back to create 3 v 2 situation, which ensured possession at the back but often didn’t enable Brazil to pass the ball through the centre of the pitch.

With the Brasilia pitch cutting up badly, lateral balls were dangerous and Brazil conceded possession too frequently when passing the ball out wide to Marcelo and (in particular) Dani Alves.

Japan mini-breaks

As a result of Brazil’s poor passing, Japan often won possession in dangerous positions and immediately broke through their attacking quartet – although it was frequently only the attacking band of three contributing, with Japan’s weakness upfront evident from Okazaki’s minimal contribution. His lack of goalscoring is well established, but in this match he didn’t show great movement or link-up play either – and those factors are arguably more important for a side possessing three talented attacking midfielders.

There were a couple of bright counter-attacking moments from Japan – Kiyotake is the least famous of the three attacking players and was substituted shortly into the second period, but he created three chances and demonstrated both good crossing ability, and an eye for a clever through-ball. Scolari will be concerned his side was so prone to counter-attacking, despite the use of two deep central midfielders.

Brazil’s back four stick tight

An obvious tactic from the Brazilian defenders was to stick extremely tight to opponents – when Okazaki dropped deep he was often tracked closely by David Luiz, while Thiago Silva was also seen moving high up the pitch, almost into the midfield zone, and Alves fouled Kagawa midway through the first half, in a position closer to the opposite touchline than to his natural right-back zone.

This was surprising given that Brazil defended deep for long periods – Scolari could be seen imploring his players to push up higher.

When Japan did find space in dangerous positions, they shot from long-range. This is unquestionably one of their strengths considering their midfield options – although it’s also a Brazilian weakness. This game was a nice summary of Julio Cesar’s skillset – he’s great at reaction saves, but less assured when dealing with long-range efforts.

Brazil play down flanks

Brazil generally concentrated their play down the flanks, with two direct wide forwards and two attack-minded full-backs. Whereas Brazil often played vertical passes from deep in midfield under Mano Menezes, and also depended upon the energy of Ramires to connect defence and attack, Scolari wants his midfielders playing more functional roles, and distributing the ball calmly out wide. Both teams – but particularly Brazil, on the left, focused passing down the wings (graphic:

Japan’s defensive transitions weren’t impressive in this match, with both wide midfielders more concerned with attacking – this gave Brazil space in wide roles to attack directly. Both Neymar and Hulk had efforts cutting after inside onto their stronger side, with Alves and Marcelo providing overlaps when possible – although often the attacks flowed too quickly to make this movement decisive.

Oscar’s role

The role of Oscar was particularly interesting – he’s not a typical number ten (indeed, he and Neymar have switched numbers – Oscar now wears 11) and the main feature of his game is his impressive tactical discipline and understanding of space.

Brazil's system

That was particularly obvious here, as the Chelsea midfielder spent much of his time drifting around the pitch, particularly towards the flanks when he spotted gaps in wider areas. In this sense, there was a similarity between Oscar’s role here and Mesut Ozil’s role for Real Madrid.

Ozil plays alongside two inverted wingers (Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria) who both repeatedly cut inside to shoot – Ozil makes exaggerated overlapping runs to maintain the width, and allow the wingers space to move into.

Oscar’s role was very selfless, giving both Neymar and Hulk freedom to move inside – he also defended the left flank effectively when Neymar stayed forward, making as many tackles as any other Brazilian player. In this Brazilian system, the number nine and the number ten are very functional and unglamorous, designed to get the best out of the two wide forwards.

In the end, Oscar actually provided a sublime through-ball for Jo’s late third goal – but this wasn’t typical of the role he played.

Japan outplayed, but improve

Japan will be disappointed at their overall lack of control in the midfield zone, although they improved after half-time. An increased share of possession meant both Atsuto Uchida and Yuto Nagatomo could break forward – a key feature of Japan’s play in the Asian Cup victory of 2011.

Uchida prefers to overlap, while Nagatomo likes cutting inside onto his right foot. Arguably, the way Japan reshaped towards the end of the first half (Kiyotake off, Maeda on to play upfront, and Okazaki moved to the right) – didn’t help the balance of the side. Uchida found it difficult to overlap Okazaki, while Kagawa’s drifts inside mean Nagatomo can’t do the same thing – but there was at least more variety in Japan’s play, with Maeda’s movement more dangerous upfront.

Brazil take command

Brazil’s second goal followed another drilled pass from the flank – this time Alves, from the right – and Paulinho popped up in the penalty box to finish. This was a relatively rare forward run from the midfielder, who generally stayed in position – although there’s a clear separation of duties with he and Gustavo, who plays much deeper and collects short balls from the centre-backs.

At 2-0 Scolari made three changes – Lucas Moura for Neymar, Hernanes for Hulk and Fred for Jo. This made Brazil more of a 4-3-3 – Hernanes becoming the third central midfielder, with Oscar left and Lucas Moura right, either side of Jo. This made Brazil a little less direct and more based around ball retention, despite the third goal.


Brazil weren’t exhilarating and could have moved the ball forward more quickly, but there was a lot to be optimistic about for Brazilian fans, with each section of the side appearing cohesive. The defence was solid enough, despite starting too deep, while the two midfielders both performed their duties calmly and efficiently.

Further forward, Oscar played his role intelligent, and he and Fred helped Neymar’s favoured positioning. “My feeling is that we’re finding the best lineup,” said Scolari.

In terms of individuals, the major question mark is Hulk on the right – he’s unstoppable at his best, but against top opposition, Scolari might feel the Zenit forward makes Brazil too one-dimensional. Lucas is a superior ball carrier from deep, while Jadson would play narrower and offer more creativity – although using either of these players might increase the pressure on Neymar.

Zaccheroni will be disappointed at Japan’s lack of midfield control – they’re a better side than this, but their playmakers had relatively little opportunity to influence the game. Although they were most dangerous on the break here, Japan are at their best when Hasebe and Endo control matches, allowing the full-backs to get forward and the wide players to drift in. “We weren’t able to demonstrate our abilities,” said Zaccheroni. “We’ve only shown about 50% of what we can do.”

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