Brazil vs. Panama: 6 Things We Learned
Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil secured a comfortable 4-0 victory over Panama on Tuesday night, getting their final rehearsals for the coming World Cup off to a perfect start.
After a slow opening half-hour, Brazil took the lead through a Neymar free-kick before clicking into gear and extending their lead courtesy of Dani Alves.
Hulk added a third shortly after the break, while substitute Willian put icing on the cake midway through the second half.
What can we take from the Selecao's penultimate warm-up clash? Six things stand out.
Neymar’s Form Is No Concern
Neymar has not had the best of first seasons in Spain, with a loss of form and injury disrupting his start to life at Barcelona. While by no means poor, more was expected of the brightest star in Brazilian football.
Against Panama, though, Neymar quickly showed any concerns over his form to be misplaced. He was lively from early on, and then began to run the show after curling home a delightful first-half free-kick.
A clever backheel to set up team-mate Hulk was his standout moment, but the No. 10 looked threatening whenever he had possession and played an important creative role in Willian’s fourth.
If Neymar needed a confidence boost ahead of the World Cup, he certainly got one against Panama.
Midfield Concerns Still Persist
In previewing the match, I mentioned that the Brazil midfield's inability to truly take control of games has been an ongoing concern. Nothing about the tie with Panama allayed those fears.
Particularly in the early stages, when Panama came out of the changing rooms the brighter of the two sides, Brazil were sloppy in their passing game in central areas. On this occasion, Ramires and Luiz Gustavo were the offending parties.
The latter did much good work defensively, but it was only when Brazil pulled clear in the game after half-time that they achieved any sort of rhythm in central areas, aided by the introduction of Hernanes.
Willian Offers Something a Little Different
If it is a direct battle between Willian and Hulk to take the role of right-sided forward in Felipao’s side, then the latter did enough to maintain his starting berth on Tuesday.
Hulk, though, will feel that his place is not yet safe. Willian also scored against Panama and, having been introduced, offered a genuine wide presence in the second half. It was to Brazil’s benefit.
Scolari’s faith in Hulk is clear, but Willian’s case grows louder with each appearance he makes. Against Serbia on Friday, a direct shootout may take place between the two for a starting jersey against Croatia.
Fred Needs More Minutes Against Serbia
If there was one major worry for Scolari on Tuesday evening, it was the form of centre-forward Fred, who spurned a couple of major chances on the night.
The Fluminense forward has long been a crucial player in his coach’s plans for the World Cup but has not been at his best since Brazil's Confederations Cup success, largely due to injuries.
Shortly before being replaced by Jo on the hour mark, the veteran spurned a glorious headed chance from a Neymar cross. Earlier in the clash, he failed to connect with a similar chance.
Selecao Must Get World Cup Crowds Onside Early
At the Confederations Cup last summer, Brazil managed to harness the energy of the crowds around the country to aid their quest for success.
During their slow start against Panama, though, the crowd grew frustrated to the point where they cheered every touch from the visiting side. Such displays have been commonplace from home crowds in recent years.
Expectations are high, and no crowd is as demanding as the one watching the Selecao play at home. The World Cup will be a very different occasion, but a bright start to the tournament will be important in setting the tone for the competition among their supporters.
Panama Need Greater Exposure
If there was one positive for Panama to take in defeat on Tuesday, it was that they showed themselves capable of matching Brazil on their opponents' territory—for an hour at least.
The end result was not flattering for the Central American nation, and indeed Brazil could have scored more. But Panama enjoyed moments in the first half where they looked at ease with their surroundings.
Panama were not far from earning a CONCACAF qualifying berth at the World Cup this time around and are certainly not the no-hopers many might imagine. More opportunities to test themselves against the likes of Brazil can only benefit their development.