Brazil vs. Japan Confederations Cup Match Preview and Tactical Analysis
Tonight we see the official opening of Brazil’s Confederations Cup, traditionally a warm up tournament ahead of the following summer’s World Cup. With all the hectic confusion surrounding Brazil’s readiness to host such a tournament in terms of infrastructure and recent police conflicts in certain areas of the country there is also a great deal of trouble on the football side of things with Brazil heading into the Confederations Cup under a great deal of pressure following a disappointing start to Luis Felipe Scolari’s second spell in charge of the Selecao. There is yet to be a system settled on by Scolari with changes made before each friendly under the former Chelsea coach’s stewardship and there have also been a number of inconsistent personnel changes. This added to the mass pressure weighing on Neymar’s shoulders to lead his country glory sets Japan up with a real opportunity to this evening upset the applecart if you will.
Japan led by Italian Alberto Zaccheroni head into the Confederations Cup as 2011 Asian Cup winners with stars such as Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Yuto Nagatomo at their disposal. Japan head into the tournament in a not to dissimilar situation to Brazil with the Japanese arriving in Brazil on the back of a 1-0 away World Cup qualifier win against Iraq in Qatar which followed a 1-1 draw with Australia in another World Cup qualification fixture. Zaccheroni will be hoping his side can take advantage of a Brazilian team under enormous pressure and put the Maracana crowd on their own team’s back with an early goal.
Alberto Zaccheroni bemoaned his side’s collective fitness at the end of May following two disappointing defeats and since then has been working with his side to improve their fitness ahead of the testing, energy sapping conditions of Brazil “We need to improve our overall fitness first, but I don’t worry about that.” Zaccheroni has been known during his near three year spell in charge of the Japanese national team, to utilise his famed 3-4-3 formation yet make changes to it midway through a match should he feel the situation requires it, Zaccheroni can easily switch this 3-4-3 to a 4-2-3-1 due to the versatility of a number of his players. Yuto Nagatomo for instance can play either on the wing of a 3-4-3 and work the full channel tracking back to defend however when Zaccheroni feels the time is right to deploy the 4-2-3-1, Nagatomo can drop back and play as a left full back in the defensive four.
Zaccheroni has shaped his team in a way that embraces the 3-4-3 formation which was one of his earliest tasks as Japan manager with the known 4-2-3-1 being reserved for qualification matches until the players were confident enough with the stereotypically Italian 3-4-3 system which we will see Japan use in the upcoming Confederations Cup. If Japan as expected start in a 3-4-3 then Shinji Kagawa may well be positioned on the left hand side, where he spent much of the second half of the season at Old Trafford much to the dismay of some Manchester United supporters who felt he was most effective playing through the middle, in the ‘false nine’ position just off the striker. Keisuke Honda will play in the same role on the right hand side although both will find themselves drifting into the centre with Uchida and Nagatomo moving forward with pace on either flank. Due to the pace Japan have got in these wide areas the 3-4-3 Zaccheroni employs becomes much more fluid and interchangeable with players able to move regularly whilst in and around the attacking third which will no doubt cause Brazil’s defence difficulties.
Depending on variations to the starting line-ups Zaccheroni might make based on injuries to Honda and Nagatomo heading into the Brazil fixture and this is how Japan could set out in tonight’s fixture against Brazil, both in the 3-4-3 and then the 4-2-3-1 which could easily be achieved during the match via a rotation in position and one, or two at the most substitutions.
Brazil under Scolari on the other hand have to use a system which accommodates their number of attacking players such as Neymar, Oscar, Hulk and Lucas Moura with one of the three inevitably having to miss out on the starting line-up as we saw with Lucas Moura in the recent friendly at the Maracana against Roy Hodgson’s England. Scolari sets out with a 4-4-2 shaped system, however it quickly develops into either a 4-2-2-2 formation or a 4-2-3-1 not too dissimilar to the Japanese system. Fred is the lone striker in each case with Neymar playing just off him in the central role of the 4-2-2-2 or the 4-4-2 however Neymar is given a degree of freedom to roam wherever he likes which is something which has caused a degree of unhappiness amongst sections of the Brazilian supporters which in turn has increased pressure on Neymar to deliver on the big stage tenfold.
The central midfield pairing will be Luis Gustavo and Paulinho with the Corinthians midfield player’s technical ability when passing the football complementing Luis Gustavo’s tough tackling approach well although the Bayern Munich man is not at all one dimensional in the middle of the park make no mistake about that. Dani Alves will start the match at right full back with Thiago Silva and David Luiz at the heart of the Brazilian defence however the left back position is one that has caused much debate amongst Brazilian journalists and supporters. Filipe Luis of Atletico Madrid has been given the nod in recent friendly matches ahead of Real Madrid’s Marcelo which many do not believe to be the right call with the general belief being that Filipe Luis offers nothing that Marcelo didn’t already bring to the table in terms of defensive ability and going forward down the left hand side.
In Scolari’s second term much of the focus has been on organization and solidity rather than the fluid, expansive attacking football which Brazil has become known for and this to a degree has unsettled supporters, as it did in 2010 with Dunga at the helm. Neymar is given a lot of responsibility to drive the team forward with his position just behind Fred and as a result may try to do too much on his own with the ball which many football watchers see as selfishness.
Brazil head into tonight’s fixture under immense pressure, they are playing in front of their own fans, they are favourites to win this competition and indeed next summer’s World Cup yet have not been able to produce any sort of rhythm to their football since Scolari took over in November however the lack of competitive fixtures played by Brazil since then may have something to do with it. With expectations so high there is a very real chance Japan could surprise Brazil this evening, especially if they find their rhythm early on and can manipulate their 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 system throughout the match, much of this depends on the fitness of Honda and Nagamoto however with both potential doubts ahead of tonight’s Group A opener.
Prediction: I think Brazil will probably edge this match however Neymar will have to shrug off the pressure imposed upon him and really make an impact. Any slow start or slip-ups from Brazil or Neymar tonight could set a disastrous tone for the rest of the tournament. Japan will no doubt test Brazil but I think they too haven’t had the best preparation for the competition and could struggle with fitness late on in matches with the majority of their squad having just completed full European seasons although this is also the case with Brazil. With Brazil’s advantage in quality despite all their pre-tournament troubles I think they will just edge it 2-0.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4