Brazil 1-1 Chile: Brazil progress by the finest of margins

June 29, 2014

The starting line-ups. Hulk and Oscar often switched.

Brazil won on penalties after an incredibly tense and tiring contest.

Luiz Felipe Scolari selected Fernandinho following his good impact in the win over Cameroon, with Paulinho on the bench.

Jorge Sampaoli brought back Arturo Vidal after he was rested for the defeat to the Netherlands.

The first half was an extremely fast-paced battle of pressing, and that tired both teams for the final 75 minutes, with the quality of football declining rapidly after half-time.

Pressing

The atmosphere in Belo Horizonte was intense and both sides started extremely quickly. The most obvious feature of the game was the pressing, which was noticeable from both sides but mainly – as always – from Chile. They closed down high up the pitch, with Arturo Vidal moving forward to help the forwards press the Brazilian backline.

This created a very high-tempo first half, but also a poor game in terms of raw technical quality. No-one seemed confident enough to put their foot on the ball and play an intelligent pass, and instead offloaded the ball hurriedly. There were also a high number of fouls, with various players allowed to get away with very strong tackles without further punishment. This added to the high-tempo, physical nature, but it’s difficult to remember many pieces of good football throughout.

Long balls

The pressing resulted in a large number of long balls, both because the midfielders were occupied by opponents, and because the defenders were afraid to play around the pressure. Both goalkeepers, in particular, thumped huge balls downfield rather than passing to the defenders.

This harmed both sides’ attacking play. Brazil were unable to get midfield runners around lone striker Fred – who had a poor game, but was isolated for long periods. Neymar showed flashes of brilliance but didn’t look 100% fit after an early injury, while the two wide players, who rotated throughout, were being pushed back by the Chile wing-backs.

Chile might have been pleased they were forcing Brazil into long balls, but in truth they would have been better with Brazil trying to play through them. So much of Chile’s attacking play depends on winning the ball high up the pitch and attacking quickly. When moves start from their defence, they’re less effective, and that’s where they usually picked up possession.

Neymar v Silva

The key individual battle was to the right of the Chilean defence. Neymar picked up an early knock, but he caused Francisco Silva real problems throughout. Silva simply didn’t have the pace to play against Neymar, especially in such a high defensive line and with Mauricio Isla playing high up the pitch, meaning Silva was forced to cover a lot of space.

Silva was nervous in almost every situation – he was poor in possession, vulnerable to speed, and made a very risky header when dealing with a long cross. Neymar was a tricky enough opponent, and had some good moments with possession, but often made the wrong decision.

There was also a period where Brazil’s wide players kept finding space in behind the Chilean wing-backs, with Hulk’s battle against Eugenio Mena (when he moved to that side) particularly interesting. Hulk manfully tracked back, but simply doesn’t have the defensive ability of Oscar, and Mena found space…but then Hulk was given opportunities to drive past. The more the game went on, the more Chile’s wing-backs sat deeper – they started with a back three, and after about an hour were clearly a back five.

Chile’s main attacking play was based around Alexis Sanchez, who dropped very deep to become a number ten and conducted some of Chile’s moves from between the lines. He was the game’s best individual, but didn’t always find Vidal and Eduardo Vargas making the right movements.

Goals

In a frantic first half, the goals came from expected sources. Brazil’s opener, credited to David Luiz (though it could have been an own goal) was from a set-piece. Chile’s struggles in these situations are well known, with Fred mentioning it in a pre-match interview. They simply lack height, and Thiago Silva beat the Chilean defenders to the first header.

Incidentally, it’s worth remembering that the corner originated from Claudio Bravo’s completely unnecessary (and slightly mis-hit) punch over his own crossbar from a free-kick. Chile know they’re vulnerable at set-pieces, so should have been desperate not to concede them.

Chile’s goal, meanwhile, came from winning possession inside the opposition third. Brazil were hitting long balls in open play – but when trying to play their way out from a throw-in, they fell into the trap of Chile’s press, and Sanchez pounced.

Chile dominate…

Brazil thought they’d netted the winner when Hulk got past Mena once again, but the goal was disallowed for a handball.

After that, Chile dominated. This was partly because of a tactical switch: Sampaoli surprisingly took off main striker Vargas, and brought on Felipe Gutierrez, a midfielder. At the same time, Sanchez gave up his right-forward position and started playing as an inside left, with support from Vidal.

Chile were 5-3-2 now, and with three central midfielders and Sanchez and Vidal also in the midfield zone, clearly dominated possession. The problem, though, was that they didn’t have enough players making penetrative runs (although this had been an issue in the first half too, so Chile weren’t sacrificing much by adding to the midfield battle).

Chile fade…

As the game continued, tiredness set in, and the match was played at an extremely low pace. This affected Chile more, because their gameplan is so dependent upon that high-tempo style. After the removal of the exhausted Vidal, with Mauricio Pinilla taking his place, they became completely disjointed – eight defending, two attacking, and nothing in between. It meant Brazil had acres of space to dominate and build passing moves. Chile were also forced to sit much deeper against Jo, who likes running in behind, after he replaced the more static Fred, further increasing the gap for Brazil to dominate.

Brazil lacked real quality from their midfield, and particularly their other two substitutes. Ramires suited a high-tempo game, but showed little ability in possession and Hernanes would have been a better option. Willian replaced Oscar in extra-time, but was also more about pace than precision. The game was Brazil’s to lose, but they simply didn’t have the midfield guile, despite being afforded so much space.

And it was Chile who nearly won it. There was only one way there were going to create a clear-cut chance – a long ball from Bravo to Pinilla and Sanchez – they exchanged a one-two before Pinilla smashed a shot against the crossbar, with 15 seconds remaining.

That miss, and Gonzalo Jara missing the crucial penalty by hitting the inside of the post, shows the incredibly fine margins between ‘victory’ and ‘defeat’ – although this game was technically, and deservedly, a draw.

Conclusion

A tight, tense and completely absorbing match – but little technical quality. Often, when two sides press each other intensely, it’s because they recognise the passing quality of their opponents, and want to disturb that rhythm. The match then becomes a brilliant test of who can play around the pressure, and the passing is extremely high-tempo.

On the other hand, these two sides are more about pressing than possession, and when the opposition closed them down, they tended to hit the ball long. The game was actually very scrappy for long periods, and while the first half was played at an incredible tempo, it slowed dramatically in the second half, and penalties looked likely by around the 75 minute mark. No-one had any energy left, aside from the substitutes.

Chile have again been a joy to watch. Their heavy pressing gives opponents real problems, and at times their attacking play has been brilliant, with Sanchez playing as a number ten and midfield runners getting forward in support. As always, though, there’s a frustrating lack of efficiency in the final third, and it’s been notable that they’ve dipped dramatically in all four matches after around the hour mark. The major regret is that Vidal wasn’t at full fitness – he was rested for the defeat to Holland (when he might have provided a bit of magic to get the win, and ensure Chile avoided Brazil) and had to go off early here, a huge blow considering he’s arguably the world’s best penalty taker.

Brazil were not impressive, and increasingly look heavily dependent upon Neymar. Fred’s role is intended to be limited and specific, but it’s tough to justify playing a striker who contributes so little in the way of movement. They also need more from Oscar, who was brilliant in the opening day victory over Croatia, but didn’t provide the midfield creativity here. If feels like Scolari will have to make a small but telling tactical shift if Brazil are to win this competition.


Brazil 1-1 Chile: Brazil progress by the finest of margins

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