Brazil's preparations for the World Cup officially began today in a friendly against Zimbabwe. Juan was dropped right before the game in favor of Thiago Silva - the medical staff said that he was suffering from exhaustion. The home team looked the more dangerous side with several dangerous chances in the first 30 minutes of the game.
Julio Cesar was forced out in the 21st minute due to a back injury. The play in which the injury occurred, presented the best chance for Zimbabwe, but Karuru blasted the ball over the net. Julio Cesar's injury is not serious and he was taken off as a precautionary measure. He will be available for the North Korea game, but his status in the Tanzania game is unclear.
Brazil pushed and pushed, but were not quite clicking in the passing game. Lucio was caught off guard on several occasion, perhaps due to the altitude and exhaustion from a long European season.
In the 41st minute, Michel Bastos all but cemented his spot in the starting 11 with a rocket of a free kick, which clocked in at 139 km/hr. For reference, Roberto Carlos' free kick against China in the 2002 World Cup was "only" 119 km/hr.
Three minutes later, Maicon would launch a ball to Robinho, who calmly finished. All of a sudden it was 2-0. The first half proved to be closer than expected, but superior finishing is often the difference in games such as this one. Kaka and Fabiano in particular had quiet first halves.
Robinho complained of some rough tackling by the Zimbabweans, and he was noticeably irritated at Rambanapasi. The two exchanged some harsh words midway through the first half.
In the second half, Brazil brought on Luisao for Lucio, Julio Baptista for Kaka, and Daniel Alves for Maicon.
Baptista and Alves proved to be just the spark that Brazil needed. 10 minutes into the half, the two, along with Elano, connected on a beautiful play, resulting in a simple tap in for Elano, to make it 3-0.
Several minutes later, Baptista executed a perfect pass to Elano, who narrowly missed the net from just inside the penalty area.
From then on, it was cruise control and the game might well have ended there. Grafite and Nilmar came on for Fabiano and Robinho, but neither were able to provide a spark.
The game ended 3-0 for Brazil. The international media were not quite impressed with the friendly, but such critiques are quite premature.
The purpose of this friendly was to get the players prepared for the World Cup -- they had not played together since the game against Ireland in early March. Kaka and Fabiano were noticeably rusty due to their fitness issues.
But the friendly addressed some important issues. Bastos appears to be Brazil's left back of the future. He was cool and collected -- he had impressed in recent Brazil's recent training sessions by hitting several free kicks. The practice paid off and he bagged his first international goal.
Kaka isn't ready, but Baptista showed that he is a capable substitute. On Elano's goal, he provided a cheeky backheel and his passing in the second half was top notch.
Maicon was noticeably tired, but once the World Cup starts, Alves could be the first man off the bench, either at right back or in midfield.
Man of the Match - Elano -- A relatively quiet first 30 minutes for him led to a "trending topic" on Twitter, with many Brazilians tweeting and calling for his head. But all these tweets were premature, as he picked up the slack in the midfield. He was essentially Brazil's engine and was rewarded with the third goal, his seventh for Brazil. He also took a few free kicks and he will likely be the primary right foot shot for Brazil on set-pieces when Alves is not on the pitch.
Julio Cesar - N/A - He was substituted midway through the first half. He is OK though.
Gomes - 6.5 -- Came on and immediately had to make a big save, off of a Musona header. He probably made the save harder than it had to be since it looked as if he left the ground a bit late.
Maicon - 6.5 -- He had a quiet first half and didnt face a lot of pressure on the right flank. Had a shot on goal and made a gorgeous pass to Robinho that resulted in a goal. He was substituted at the half and appeared tired.
Daniel Alves - 7 -- He came on for a tired Maicon at the half and definitely sparked Brazil's attack on the right side. Participated in a great team goal with Baptista and Elano. This is Brazil's super-sub.
Lucio - 5 -- The long European season and altitude definitely showed. Lucio was slow and particularly vulnerable on a 1 on 1. He was also careless on the play that led to Julio Cesar's injury. He was subbed at the half.
Luisao - 6.5 -- By the time he came on, Brazil had figured things out. He was quiet, and that's how it should be.
Thiago Silva - 6.5 -- A solid 90 minutes overall. He started off slow, but picked it up in the second half.
Michel Bastos - 8 -- Brazil's new left back. He didn't really attack as much as he typically does for Lyon. He also faced a lot of pressure on the left side since most of Zimbabwe's offensive plays came from his side. He scored one of the best free kicks this season. Great game.
Gilberto Silva - 6 -- A quiet game. He played the entire 90 minutes and was given the captain's armband when Lucio was substituted.
Felipe Melo - 7 -- This was no friendly for Melo. He took this game seriously and matched Zimbabwe's violent play. Quite the tenacious midfielder. But, he was pretty poor in the passing department. Dunga may want to have a talk with him -- if there's a bet out there for who will get the World Cup's first red card, well, Melo is odds-on favorite.
Elano - 8.5 -- Man of the match. Brazilians and the international media hate on this guy, but all he does is play well for Brazil. The Rodney Dangerfield of the footballing world. How about a little respect?
Kaka - 6 -- If he was at 100%, this would've been a pretty poor performance. But he's getting into the rhythm of the game. He showed some good movement, but he couldn't connect on his passes. He was substituted at the half. Kaka should be ready to shine against North Korea.
Julio Baptista - 7 -- Proved that he could be Kaka's replacement. A great backheel pass on the third goal. He still needs to work on his passing, but this was a problem that plagued much of the team.
Luis Fabiano - 5 -- Hardly touched the ball in the 60 minutes he was on the pitch. He had a few shots that went wide. Definitely isolated up front. Probably the most disappointing player on the pitch for Brazil, but like Kaka, he's suffered his shares of injuries.
Grafite - N/A -- Not enough time on the field to show much, especially since Brazil stopped attacking when he was on.
Robinho - 8 -- He started off slowly like the rest of his team mates, but his trademark ginga was there as the game progressed. Scored on a great finish and he moved well. Definitely Brazil's best attacking player. If Fabiano can't find his rhythm during the World Cup, Robinho could be the one who gets the Golden Boot.
Nilmar - N/A -- Same as Grafite.
Overall -- What you would expect. A team trying to find its rhythm. Julio Cesar provided a scare, but he's ok. The game answered some pressing questions, which is what you can hope for. Brazil's next friendly is on Monday against Tanzania.