Film Focus: Brazil's Full-Backs Exposed by Serbian Width

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Film Focus: Brazil's Full-Backs Exposed by Serbian Width
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Brazil's preparations for the coming World Cup reached their conclusion on Friday evening with a 1-0 victory over Serbia that, despite being a confidence-boosting result, also offered plenty of food for thought in the week ahead.

Serbia may not be remaining in Brazil for the competition itself, but they are of comparable ability to many sides who will be taking part. As tests go, the adventurous and youthful side are far from straightforward opponents.

For the opening 45 minutes of the clash at the Morumbi, that is exactly how the game appeared to be panning out. The visitors may have had less possession than their illustrious hosts but they were the only side that looked like scoring.

In Milos Jojic and Lazar Markovic, the Serbs possess two of European football's brightest attacking midfield starlets. At Borussia Dortmund and Benfica respectively, both seem destined for the top in the years ahead and impressed greatly despite the poor standard of the playing surface.

They were, though, helped greatly by the disappointing manner in which Brazil approached defending for the best part of an hour, with Marcelo and Dani Alves particularly at fault.

BT Sport images, B/R annotation

It can be said that Brazil's full-backs were not entirely to blame. While Aleksandar Kolarov and Dusan Basta pushed forward to support their wingers, Hulk and Neymar were frequently poor in their tracking back.

The central midfield trio of Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho and Oscar, meanwhile, were stuck in cruise control for much of the game. For the latter duo, the encounter did little to silence doubts over their form since the turn of the year.

It must, of course, be taken into account that this was a friendly clash days ahead of the biggest tournament in these players' lives and, with Serbia not pulling out of any challenges, the temptation to avoid confrontation is understandable. However, indiscipline in defensive work is inexcusable.

So bad was the malaise in Brazil's defence that even David Luiz and Thiago Silva's usually solid partnership showed signs of creaking.

At one point the pair ran into each other when very little danger was developing, while striker Aleksandar Mitrovic missed a golden chance from a header with Thiago Silva nowhere to be seen. The 19-year-old Anderlecht forward, in truth, appeared overawed by the occasion.

It was in wide areas, though, that such chances were created. Both Dani Alves and Marcelo are fantastic when in possession and moving forward, while both enjoy the physical side of defending. Yet, at times, they are positionally poor and reliant on Luiz Gustavo or Paulinho to cover.

BT Sport images, B/R annotation
BT Sport images, B/R annotation
BT Sport images, B/R annotation

With Serbia occupying that duo, largely through creative hub Dusan Tadic, they were all too often able to free Markovic or Jojic to run into the area. The former, in particular, was terrific on the night.

Even when Dani Alves and Marcelo were in position as expected, there were occasions when they were beaten with astonishing ease.

BT Sport images, B/R annotation
BT Sport images, B/R annotation

Attacking is a big part of their game, but it was a feature of the side's Confederations Cup campaign that both full-backs were diligent in their defensive play. On this occasion, it appeared that both had set their minds solely upon contributing in forward areas.

Scolari's side will come up against sides better than Serbia in the weeks ahead, with wide forwards who can do real damage if left unchecked even once in a game. He will therefore require his full-backs and those ahead of them to do a much better job if Brazil are to enjoy success.

A run of 15 wins in 16 games is impressive and the confidence gained is a major positive for the Brazil side, but they cannot afford to allow complacency to slip in. On Friday night, there was an arrogance in the manner they approached defensive work and Serbia should have made them pay.

Had they lost out, there could be nobody to blame but themselves. Croatia next week will not be so forgiving and will certainly punish any such midfield malaise.

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