Goals rained in Brasilia as the 2014 World Cup host country ended up beating Cameroon 4-1. Neymar without a doubt carried the team on his shoulders, but was this the performance that Brazil needed to gain confidence and momentum going into the knockout round?
After Brazil’s first two matches of the group stage, it was clear that things had to improve in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team if it wanted to play at the Maracana on 13 July.
Which things improved against Cameroon?
The obvious one, after the 0-0 draw with Mexico, was putting the ball in the back of the net. Brazil scored four goals in a World Cup match after nine games without doing so; the last time it happened was in a 4-1 victory over Japan in Germany ’06.
Scolari’s squad found that it could use the variable of long balls to get its attackers in one-on-one situations with the defenders. Neymar and Hulk were the ones who took the most advantage of the long balls coming from Dani Alves and David Luiz.
When Croatia looked determined to attack Brazil in the tournament opener, the Selecao didn’t look sharp on the back. Against the Africans, to avoid having trouble on the back, there was constant high pressure to get the ball back on the rivals’ side. The plan worked perfectly, as three out of the four Brazilian goals came from recovering the possession high up the field.
Individually, there were players who had pleasant performances on Monday night.
Neymar not only scored a brace, but also was a constant threat to Cameroon’s defense. Every time he got the ball, there was a sense that a dangerous play was about to happen. The Barcelona forward also participated in Brazil’s offensive buildup and didn’t stop moving on top to get himself open.
Fred, who has been under harsh criticism but enjoys his teammates’ support, responded by scoring a goal and participated way more than he did against the Mexicans. Scoring goals is the only way that Brazil’s No. 9 is going to turn the criticism into compliments.
Fernandinho came from the bench to substitute Paulinho in the second half, and the Manchester City midfielder showed Felipao that he is ready to be a starter if needed. If it wasn’t for Neymar’s performance, Fernandinho would have been Brazil’s highlight man.
However, Brazil still showed areas that need to be improved.
At the beginning of the game, Brazil came out strong and aggressive up front, but it only took some minutes for Cameroon to level things up. As much as Alves and Marcelo are an asset on Brazil’s wing attack, they have not proven the same when defending close to their own box.
Also, Brazil left too much space to cover on the midfield for Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho once the Africans got the ball. Fred, Hulk, Neymar and Oscar were constantly playing higher on the field in relation to the ball position, which meant if the ball was lost, all four of those players weren’t immediately available to help out on the midfield defensive duties.
Neymar was pure inspiration and carried Brazil in the tougher minutes of the game. That is magnificent for the team, but if Neymar doesn’t come out in his best form in the next round, is there someone in the team who can step up? Oscar played a great game against Croatia, but in the last two matches, he hasn’t shown much of the magic that is expected from the Chelsea playmaker.
It is also important to put into perspective that Brazil defeated the weakest team in the group and that the only reason they earned first place is because of the better goal differential compared to Mexico’s.
In the next round, Brazil will be facing Chile, and La Roja are not going to forgive as many mistakes as Cameroon did. Brazil did improve through their three group-stage matches, but they still need more improvement to be a well-oiled machine that fits the favourite tag that the Selecao carry.
If we compare the final result and the things that made Brazil look good against Cameroon with what didn’t go well, we still have a hard time getting the positives to outweigh the negatives.
Brazil’s performance helps with the confidence and to keep the waters calm for now, but internally, the team should know this is not going to be enough to win the "hexacampeonato" (sixth championship).