Brazil 2-1 Uruguay: Brazil through to the final after substitutes help increase the pressure

June 27, 2013

The starting line-ups

Brazil weren’t on top form, but Paulinho’s late header sends them through to the final.

Luiz Felipe Scolari brought back Paulinho after injury kept the Tottenham target out of the victory over Italy – so Hernanes dropped to the bench.

Having changed his entire side for the win over Tahiti, Oscar Tabarez reverted to the side that defeated Nigeria.

This was a disappointing match in technical sense, with none of the attacking players sparkling, although it was interesting in tactical sense.

Uruguay shape

Having started with a back three against Nigeria before moving back to a four, this was a solid 4-3-3 from Uruguay at the start of the game. Cristian Rodriguez and Alvaro Gonzalez were hard-working shuttlers either side of Edigio Arevalo, who sat between the defence and midfield.

More intriguing was the situation upfront, where Tabarez yet again switched his front three. Against Nigeria he’d used Diego Forlan on the left, Luis Suarez right and Edinson Cavani upfront, before switching Suarez and Cavani for the second half. This time, he used Forlan centrally – but very deep, closer to Brazil’s holding midfielders than their centre-backs – with Suarez left and Cavani right, tracking Brazil’s dangerous attacking full-backs.

Uruguay approach

In the first ten minutes Uruguay held onto the ball inside the Brazilian half, and although they didn’t create any clear-cut goalscoring chances, this period was actually quite important considering that Brazil had started their three previous matches at a tremendous pace. Uruguay’s attacking was therefore actually more effective in a defensive sense, preventing Brazil from getting into a good passing rhythm.

As the game settled down, however, it became clear Uruguay were sitting very deep and playing on the counter-attack. Suarez and Cavani, in particular, were brought back into very defensive wide roles – Suarez pinned back Daniel Alves, while Cavani was forced deeper by Marcelo’s forward bursts. In the centre, Forlan picked up Luiz Gustavo rather than the two centre-backs, which meant David Luiz and Thiago Silva had time on the ball, but few forward passing options.

With the Uruguayan defence comfortable keeping a relatively high line against Fred, Tabarez’s side stayed very compact and pressed when the ball was played into midfield. The tactic, it seemed, was to win the ball before breaking quickly through the two pacey wide players – Forlan was more of a link man – but Uruguay’s transitions weren’t smooth enough to create genuine counter-attacking chances.

Brazil strategy

Brazil’s approach was not significantly different from in their previous matches – although they certainly played with less attacking cohesion. The wide players couldn’t get into the game, Fred had little service, while Oscar was crowded out in the centre of the pitch.

Their best chance of creativity was when they drew Arevalo out of position, and Oscar found space. Arevalo is accustomed to playing in a midfield duo alongside Diego Perez or Walter Gargano – and in that situation, when one moves up the pitch to close down, the other sits in position and covers the space. A naturally impetuous player, Arevalo was drawn to others a couple of times early on, but gradually kept his position more and nullified Oscar.


The other promising situation – for both sides – was getting the full-backs forward. Suarez, Cavani, Neymar and Hulk are hardly the most natural defensive players and performed their jobs with varying success. Uruguay’s wide players were generally disciplined, but Neymar showed little interest in tracking Maxi Pereira, who had a couple of opportunities to cross.

Daniel Alves has concentrated on sticking tight to opponents in this tournament, and did the same here when Suarez moved inside – and Uruguay should have had opportunities to get their left-back forward past Hulk. Martin Caceres is a right-footed, defensive-minded full-back, however, so usually stayed deep.

Brazil got the breakthrough through Fred, following an excellent ball from Paulinho over the top of the defence to Neymar just before the break – and at the start of the second half, Cavani equalised after a Brazilian defensive mix-up. By that point, 0-0 might have been fairer than 1-1.

Brazil change shape

Scolari moved to 4-3-3, introducing Bernard and Hernanes

At the start of the second half, Oscar seemed to move into a deeper position, almost into a 4-3-3 with he and Paulinho ahead of Gustavo. This was probably an attempt to get Oscar on the ball more – he’d been suffocated by the Uruguayan midfielders in the first half, and therefore needed to come deeper than that trio to collect possession and allow Brazil to work the ball forward.

The game remained very scrappy, however, with neither side passing fluently.

Bernard introduction

The closest thing to a game-changing moment came on 63 minutes, when Scolari replaced Hulk – who has been extremely disappointing throughout this tournament – with Bernard, the youngest player in the Brazilian squad, and a Belo Horizonte boy too. This whipped the crowd up into a frenzy, and seemed to lift Brazil – now, they had the momentum they lacked at the start of the match.

It made a difference tactically, too. Hulk had started to stray infield to little effect – freedom he doesn’t deserve considering his limited influence throughout matches so far – and while Bernard popped up in central positions a couple of times, on other occasions he positioned himself wide and threatened to take on Caceres down the outside. This gave Brazil a direct option and simply pushed them up the pitch, increasing the pressure on the Uruguayan backline. Diego Godin, in particular, was forced into a succession of clearances.

Uruguay counters / set-pieces

With Uruguay’s defence pushed increasingly deep, the midfield also sat closer to the edge of the penalty box – and with Forlan tiring, there wasn’t the same pressure upon the Brazilian midfielders. Gustavo and Paulinho came into the game more and Brazil dominated the centre of the pitch.

Now, Uruguay were almost entirely dependent upon counter-attacks. It seemed the only way they would win possession in dangerous situations was in wide areas, and they needed to use the ball more efficiently when Cavani and Suarez picked up possession. Both continued their admirable defensive work – Cavani made a superb tackle on Marcelo, who was starting to look increasingly dangerous, while Suarez dispossessed Alves in a great situation, but then dawdled on the ball and was tackled by Alves catching up with him.

That was Uruguay’s problem – their poor possession (32%) and pass completion (63%) statistics were expected considering their strategy – but they didn’t counter-attack well enough. As Forlan’s goal against Nigeria showed, the point of this system is to get the front three running on the break when the full-backs are high up the pitch – but Uruguay didn’t maximise potential counter-attacking situations.

Meanwhile, Brazil continue to concede too many free-kicks in wide areas, and Uruguay nearly scored when Thiago Silva nodded over his own bar from one of these situations.


Whereas Tabarez only made one change, bringing on Gargano for Gonzalez because of injury, Scolari made a second important substitution. Oscar didn’t seem entirely comfortable in that deeper role, and as discussed when Hernanes played well against Italy, the Lazio’s man’s best role is as the most advanced player in a midfield three.

This was the perfect situation for him, and although he didn’t play any truly incisive passes, he used the ball intelligently and helped maintain Brazil’s dominance. Eventually this pressure resulted in a stream of corners – and one was headed in by Paulinho with three minutes to go.


This wasn’t a great performance from Brazil, but it was another box ticked. For the first time in this tournament they were struggling and Scolari needed to alter things, and a formation switch and the introduction of two prominent attacking players showed he’s capable of tactical changes midway through games. After a very poor start, Brazil were eventually the better side.

The introduction of Bernard was also interesting, as much for the crowd’s reaction as his tactical impact. Brazil responded to the roar of the crowd, the same way they’ve often started matches brilliantly following a rousing rendition of the national anthem. Scolari and Brazil must capitalise on the benefits of home advantage if they’re to win on Sunday, and triumph at next summer’s World Cup.

Uruguay weren’t embarrassed, but their performance at this tournament (combined with the disappointment at the Olympics and the ongoing danger of not qualifying from their World Cup qualification group) shows something is missing from the side that performed so well in 2010 and 2011. Tabarez still seems undecided about his best system – but if he wants to play his three forwards, the shape used here (and against Mexico three years ago) seems best.

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