Brazil concluded their World Cup preparations with a dominant win in Vienna on Sunday and fresh warning that they could just be the team to beat this summer. Tite’s men now head to Russia and their base in Sochi before jetting off to Rostov for their opening match at the 2018 World Cup which is against Switzerland on Sunday.
They will do so in confident mood but there will also be a few nerves as they prepare for tournament football for the first time in two years. Their recent memories of major competitions are pretty dismal but there is a distinct feeling now that Brazil have turned a corner and that they will be able to carry this fine form in friendly matches over into the real action this summer.
Here’s how their warm-up friendlies panned out and what we learned from them:
Read more: Brazil’s squad for Russia 2018
Brazil 2-0 Croatia
Brazil kicked off their formal World Cup preparations on Merseyside with what on paper presented a tough test and a game against a strong Croatian side at Anfield. With Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic lining up in a star-studded Croat midfield, the Europeans were hoping to dominate possession in the middle of the park against the more industrious Brazilian options of Casemiro and Paulinho. Croatia started with a real tempo but Brazil were by no means passed into submission and ended up the game having enjoyed a 62% share of the ball.
For a friendly it was also a physical contest and although keen to avoid injuries, Tite wouldn’t have minded that with the likes of Switzerland and Serbia to come in the World Cup group stage. Those sides and perhaps even their other group opponents Costa Rica may try to rough Brazil up so the South American giants would have been happy to ride the storm of some fairly cynical First Half challenges from the Croatians which resulted in bookings for Andrej Kramarić and Ivan Perisic.
As the game wore on though, Brazil increasingly showed their class and the biggest positive from the afternoon came in the shape of the successful return of Neymar. Introduced at the break, for his first football since February following a metatarsal injury that had threatened his participation this summer, Neymar looked as if he’d never been away. A fine solo strike from him broke the deadlock on 68 minutes.
‘For the first match back I actually expected less from him’ reflected coach Tite after the game. ‘I would have been happy with a quieter performance.’
The icing on the cake was added with another classy goal in stoppage time. Casemiro’s ball over the top was expertly controlled and finished by Roberto Firmino, who offered a timely reminder that he is quite capable of pushing Gabriel Jesus for a starting role in Russia.
Austria 0-3 Brazil
Next up was a trip to Vienna and a game against Austria. On paper it presented a simpler task than the one posed by Croatia with the Austrians having got nowhere near qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. However they weren’t to be underestimated having won all of their previous seven internationals including victories over four sides that would be competing in Russia, not least neighbours Germany who they’d beaten just the previous weekend.
However Brazil quickly made a mockery of any notion that it would be a tough game. Neymar started from the off this time and got through 84 minutes, adding yet another international goal to his collection whilst easing any fears that he wouldn’t be quite ready for the challenge that lies ahead over the next month.
Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho, Brazil’s two other main attacking stars, also grabbed goals in the perfect final tune-up before the World Cup. Coutinho and Firmino both went close in the latter stages and if anything 3-0 flattered Austria in the end so if Brazil had wanted to use the game to lay down a marker ahead of the tournament, they certainly did that.
Tite’s approach was also interesting to note. In comparison to most of the other main powers who rotated heavily, Brazil went very strong in both friendlies. The eleven that started in Austria was the same that started against Croatia besides Neymar returning in place of Fernandinho.
Certainly it seems obvious that Tite is very clear in his thinking and we may just see a repeat of the side that started in Vienna when they take on Switzerland in Rostov this coming weekend. The main tactical tweak we saw in that game was Coutinho used in a central role to give the midfield a lighter, more creative feel while Willian looks to have done enough to earn a starting berth out wide.
How prepared are they for their World Cup campaign?
The short answer is very prepared. Brazil headed into the summer as favourites to clinch a sixth World Cup crown and they have outshone all of their most likely rivals in the friendlies leading up to the tournament. Their decision to field essentially their strongest eleven in both matches perhaps partly explains that but Brazil have now won 17 of their 21 matches since Copa America 2016, losing just once.
As the earliest qualifiers, they’ve had longer to prepare than everyone besides hosts Russia and they’ve really focused on getting ready for the challenge of European opposition. Their four friendlies in 2018 have all been against European sides and have all produced Brazilian wins to nil including a significant 1-0 victory over Germany, the first meeting between the sides since that 7-1 hammering in Belo Horizonte four years ago.
Unquestionably, Brazil look a far stronger outfit now than they did on home soil in 2014 and the new coach has also been highly impressive in making them a more flexible all-round unit. However there are one or two cautionary notes that will prevent Brazilian fans from getting too carried away just yet.
For starters, their form leading into this tournament isn’t really any different to what it was four years ago. Leading up to the 2014 World Cup, Brazil had won 15 of their previous 16 internationals including a dominant Confederations Cup success but clearly it all unravelled pretty quickly when they reached the business end of the tournament. They followed that bitter disappointment with 10 straight friendly wins under Dunga only to again badly underform at Copa America 2015 so clearly you can only read so much into these fine showings in non-competitive games.
Another minor concern may be that they’ve not really played many sides that will replicate the test produced by the sides they will face in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup. Their 2018 friendlies have seen them take on Germany and Croatia, two sides that at least look to play football while their other matches were against Russia and Austria, who lack the defensive quality and organisation of their three group opponents, particularly Switzerland who are more than capable of parking the bus and being very difficult to break down.
Therefore, Brazil may need to be patient and keep their cool against physical group stage opponents but overall you have to say they are as well prepared as anyone to go deep in Russia and they look like strong candidates to at least make the last four again.
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