Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil Grows in Friendlies Against Australia and Portugal
Two matches, two victories. Such was the end result after the "Selecao Brasileira"—the Brazilian national team—played friendlies against Australia and Portugal in the space of four days.
The former have already qualified for next year's World Cup, while the latter are more than likely to be there as well. But on the evidence of the last half-a-week Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil have learnt to deal efficiently with inferior sides whose only objective is to thwart their creativity, while Neymar continues to answer his critics on the international stage.
Firstly, Saturday's match against Australia. Played before a potentially combustible crowd at Brasilia's Estadio Mane Garrincha, the Selecao demolished a team who simply couldn't dream of competing with them on a technical level.
Under pressure after losing the first post-Confederations Cup friendly to Switzerland, Scolari tweaked his starting XI, and the side's engine purred. Atletico-MG striker Jô stepped seamlessly into Fred's boots and netted Brazil's first two goals.
Ramires, playing a more withdrawn role than Chelsea teammate Oscar had previously, formed an excellent midfield partnership with Paulinho. As the match wore on and Brazil continued to notch up goal after goal, the contest began to resemble a training-ground exercise.
The Brazilian press was full of praise but acknowledged a sterner test would come against Portugal in Boston. And so to the Gillette Stadium, where the fiery start to the game was anything but friendly.
The match started at a frenetic pace: Brazil, as has become customary under Scolari, pressed high up the pitch, barely allowing Bruno Alves and Pepe at the heart of the Portuguese defence a moment on the ball. Portugal, meanwhile, had their own game plan, and Neymar was unceremoniously uprooted and landed on his backside three times in the first 20 minutes.
Brazil enjoyed the lion's share of possession, but Paulinho and Ramires were quiet during the opening exchanges. The shoddy state of the pitch did little to help Brazil's passing game, and on 17 minutes they fell behind thanks to a gross Maicon error.
The Roma right-back completely misjudged a cushioned header to goalkeeper Julio Cesar, and his weak effort allowed Raul Meireles to steal in and flick the ball past the stranded stopper.
It took Brazil just six minutes to level, Thiago Silva powerfully heading home Neymar's inswinging left-sided corner. Scolari alerted David Luiz and Paulinho to use the width Brazil had on the left to their advantage, and the ploy paid dividends.
Just after the half-hour, Neymar's mazy dribble was topped by a cool finish to give Brazil the lead. And that left-hand flank would prove decisive early in the second half as the Selecao wrapped up the game.
Neymar, decisive in all three goals, laid the ball to Maxwell, whose low cross was converted by Jo for his third goal in two games. After a shaky start, Brazilian confidence visibly soared, particularly in promising winger Bernard.
The Shakhtar Donetsk forward is a bit lightweight, but he terrorised on the night, drawing a hapless Fabio Coentrao into the foul and into relief at seeing his number up on the substitute board.
Scolari also made changes: Ramires made way for Oscar, but with the game already won, the 21-year-old had little opportunity to make an impression. The excellent understanding demonstrated by Paulinho and Ramires, underlined by the sound defensive nature of Luiz Gustavo, means Scolari may opt to stick with this bolder 4-3-3 rather than his more conventional 4-2-3-1.
That would spell bad news for Oscar and the currently injured Sandro, but it would mean delight for fans who saw Neymar and Bernard benefit from a more advanced role alongside centre-forward Jo.
Scolari will come away happy with two victories and nine goals from the last few days. But he will be ecstatic that his side is enhancing its own identity with each performance.
Following on from June's Confederations Cup triumph, the road to picking a 23-man squad for next year's World Cup quest is well on its way. The last four days will have made Scolari's next eight months a whole lot easier.
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