Brazil 4-2 Italy: Brazil run riot after half-time
This match took more than 45 minutes to get going, but it turned into a fantastic end-to-end contest.
Luis Felipe Scolari brought Hernanes into his side at the expensive of Paulinho, but otherwise his starting XI was unchanged.
Cesare Prandelli was without Andrea Pirlo so Alberto Aquilani came into the side, while Leonardo Bonucci, Antonio Candreva and Alessandro Diamanti were all given starts in a rough 4-4-1-1 / 4-2-3-1 system.
The first half was dreadful, but Brazil took charge in the second half and fully deserved their victory.
Brazil pressure Italy in midfield
A common theme in this competition has been Brazil starting extremely quickly in the first few minutes – they’ve been seemingly pumped up in front of their home crowd. Although Scolari’s side have generally played on the counter-attack or slowed the tempo with safe passing, in the opening ten minutes of matches they’ve pressed high up.
That was particularly obvious here, because Brazil managed to dispossess both Riccardo Montolivo and Aquilani within the opening minute of the game. They were Italy’s two deep-lying passers, and these early blows impacted upon their ability to help Italy dominated possession, which was Prandelli’s main intention.
Having experimented with a 4-3-2-1 and a 4-3-3, Italy’s shape at the start of this match was more like a standard 4-2-3-1, although with the wide men playing conservative roles – Claudio Marchisio naturally played more centrally, while Candreva was pushed back by Marcelo, and helped protect his right-back against Neymar.
This meant the formation battle was much less interesting than in Italy’s previous matches, although after the way his side were constantly overloaded down the flanks against Japan, it was understandable that Prandelli wished to get numbers in wide areas.
Whereas Marcelo has often enjoyed space throughout this tournament, in the first half here it was Dani Alves who had the most room, a product of Marchisio’s narrow positioning. Alves had a particularly poor first half, however, constantly miscontrolling the ball, which often hampered Brazil’s ability to attack directly.
Italy found it difficult to involve Diamanti in their play – often straight passes towards him were intercepted, and with Brazil dominating territorially, neither Montolivo nor Aquilani were high up enough to create chances.
The most interesting thing about this game was the use of Hernanes in one of the central midfield roles. Against players he’s accustomed to facing regularly in Serie A, this was a great opportunity for the Lazio midfielder to demonstrate his passing talent.
Hernanes is a peculiar player – not attacking enough to be a number ten, but not a deep-lying playmaker either. His best position is probably as the most attacking player in a three-man midfield, and a couple of times he interchanged positions with Oscar – who, as always, was happy to drift around and fill gaps as others moved forward.
But Hernanes’ best work came in deeper positions, because he enjoyed a great deal of time on the ball. Prandelli asked Diamanti to occupy Luiz Gustavo, Brazil’s deepest midfielder. With Montolivo and Aquilani staying deep to protect the defence, Hernanes had a little pocket of space close to the halfway line, and used his freedom to play a succession of good forward passes towards the front four. He created two chances in this game, but often he was playing the first pass into the attacking third for others to provide the incision and penetration, and in this situation, he was a better option than Paulinho, the man he replaced in the side.
Brazil were more fluid than in their previous two matches in the attacking third, but they actually looked best when the attackers played in their usual shape – Oscar central, Neymar out left and Hulk moving inside from the right.
Free-kicks and injuries
However, the first half was ruined by an absurd amount of free-kicks. Over the 90 minutes, Italy committed 18 fouls while Brazil conceded 27. That means, somewhat obviously, that the referee stopped the game once every two minutes because of a foul.
This has been a constant problem for Brazil throughout the competition – impetuousness when attempting to win the ball back, especially in wide positions. Amazingly, Neymar has committed the most fouls, and won the most fouls, at this tournament.
There were also three changes because of injury – Emanuele Giaccherini for Montolivo, Christian Maggio for Abate, and Dante for David Luiz. The first half was stop-start and completely forgettable, though Dante scored following a set-piece to make it 1-0 just before the break.
Italy change shape
Having been forced into two first-half changes, Prandelli reformatted his side into a narrower shape, a cross between a diamond midfield and the 4-3-2-1. Giaccherini was moved centrally and played on a level close to Diamanti, while the wide players tucked inside and Aquilani played the Pirlo role.
Italy now came into the game, with Giaccherini and Diamanti both pressing high up, meaning Gustavo and Hernanes didn’t have time on the ball – although they had easy passes out wide to the full-backs. Giaccherini got beyond Balotelli well, and equalised shortly after half-time from a Route One goal.
Brazil take command
Italy had improved in a couple of areas: they were able to press high in midfield, while Aquilani was good in possession, getting space to play some clever forward passes to start attacks – essentially what Hernanes had been doing in the first half.
However, Italy now had a couple of problems, too – the Brazilian full-backs were unoccupied and were a greater influence on the second half, with Marcelo’s long ball setting up Fred’s first goal. They also lacked real protection for their back four, with Aquilani not a natural holding midfielder and uncomfortable covering such a large space deep in midfield. Italy conceded a lot of free-kicks in the second half within shooting distance, and Neymar dispatched one past Gigi Buffon to make it 3-1.
With the game becoming particularly stretched, Scolari replaced Neymar (who was on a yellow card) with Bernard, then brought on Fernando for Hulk and moved to a more solid 4-3-3 system, as he did against Japan earlier in the competition.
Prandelli brought on Stephan El Shaarawy for Diamanti (shortly after Chiellini pulled a goal back to make it 3-2) – he played a little higher up, to the left.
Ultimately the star was Fred, who scored a second in the final minute of the game. He was criticised in the build-up to this match for his lack of goals in comparison to Jo, who has scored on both occasions he’s come off the bench.
Of course, strikers will always be judged on goals by supporters, but Fred’s influence on this Brazilian side is much greater than that – he does the dirty work upfront, wins aerial duels and knocks the ball down to Neymar and Hulk. Meanwhile, his permanent central positioning allows the others to drift around as they please. Scolari was highly unlikely to drop him anyway, but this match has confirmed his place as Brazil’s number nine for the rest of the tournament.
This was a very strange match – completely disjointed during the first half, but wonderfully entertaining later on.
Arguably the key factor in terms of the pattern of play was Prandelli’s half-time formation switch – in the first half it was 4-2-3-1 v 4-2-3-1 and rather unexciting, but the switch to a narrower system meant the midfield battle was more frantic, and there was more space on the flanks. This created a more open game.
Brazil were the better side, however – Hernanes excelled in the first half, while the second half created more opportunities for Brazil to attack down the flanks, their area of strength.
Brazil 4-2 Italy: Brazil run riot after half-time