Brazil vs. Japan a Confederations Cup reaction
Brazil, a host nation under a level of pressure beyond the realms of belief for most people yesterday got their Confederations Cup campaign off to a winning start with a 3-0 victory of Alberto Zaccheroni’s Japan side on home soil in Brasilia. The widespread booing of both FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff looked like it could to set the tone for the evening with the partisan crowd needing somewhat of a release and a Brazilian victory would be the only way to achieve this.
The fans crammed into Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha were given something positive to cheer about as early as the third minute when
Neymar singlehandedly lifted the pressure on both himself and his team with one sweetly struck right footed half volley into the top left hand corner of the net. The strike came after a fantastic piece of chest control from Fred gifted Neymar a smidgen of space around twenty five yards out from goal before the Sao Paulo born striker fired the ball home with what looked like relative ease. The expression of relief upon Neymar’s face was plain to see with the Barcelona man having struggled to impress and make an impact in Brazil’s recent friendly matches against both England and France and the twenty one year old was quick to describe his goal in post-match interviews “It all happened in a flash, I connected full on and happily the ball found the target.”
Japan set out surprisingly in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Zaccheroni electing not to utilise his favoured 3-4-3 from the beginning as many expected, and this led to a forward four of Keisuke Honda on the right hand side, Shinji Kagawa in the central role just behind the main striker Shinji Okazaki and Hiroshi Kiyotake stationed on the left hand side of the attacking midfield trio. One assumes that Zaccheroni deployed four men at the back to counter against the significant pace and skill of Brazil’s forward line with Hulk, Oscar and Neymar making up the Selecao’s attacking midfield triad, the use of Uchida and Nagatomo as right and left full backs respectively was to maintain a level of attacking threat for Japan however the two never really managed to make an impact on the match with Japan for the most part struggling to retain possession.
Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda were probably the brightest sparks of a limp Japanese effort last night with the Manchester United attacking midfielder looking considerably battle weary after a long debut season in England. The very few positive points to come out of Japan’s performance yesterday evening would be that Honda managed to play eighty seven minutes without any recurrence of his recent injury troubles and Shinji Kagawa looked like he could create chances when on the ball but aside from this it was pretty much a Brazil dominated affair.
The midfield duo of Luis Gustavo of Bayern Munich and Paulinho of Corinthians worked fantastically well with the Bundesliga based Brazilian operating as the physical ball winner which allowed Paulinho to really express himself when in possession of the ball with many of his passes splitting the Japanese defence and finding either Neymar and Hulk in space on the flanks. It is interesting to note that prior to this opening match it was confirmed that the agent of Paulinho was in London with Tottenham Hotspur the favourites to secure the twenty four year olds signature and a midfield duo of Sandro and Paulinho could well be seen at White Hart Lane next season which will not be too dissimilar to the one Brazil employed last night with Luis Gustavo. Gustavo’s ability to win the ball in most situations and Paulinho’s quick distribution to the flanks made it really difficult for Japan to get any real rhythm and tempo going through their own midfield pairing with the often explosive Endo unable to get on the ball and Hasebe being forced to sit back and try and hold a bit of shape to his side’s midfield. The way Gustavo and Paulinho dominated and dictated the way the game was played yesterday evening could well be an indication as to how Brazil will look to set up against teams that are more capable themselves of retaining possession i.e. Italy and Spain.
The dynamic of Brazil’s aforementioned midfield two is frighteningly similar to the pairing that led Brazil to World Cup glory in Japan and Korea in 2002 under Luis Felipe Scolari with Gilberto Silva playing the role of Luis Gustavo in anchoring the midfield as well as winning the ball and Kleberson replicating the role Paulinho plays now, being entrusted to be the deep playmaker from midfield.
Brazil were to get their second goal just three minutes into the second half through Paulinho with Japan caught out at the back after pressing forward from the kick off just minutes earlier, Dani Alves powered a cross across the penalty area which Paulinho somehow brought under his control with an admirable easy single touch before rifling the ball past Kawashima in the Japanese net although the Standard Liege goalkeeper would be disappointed with the way he got a strong hand to the shot but failed to keep it out. This was to be the last real action worthy of note until late on in the match with the fatigue of the players becoming a factor and only Neymar’s geeing up of the crowd as he approached to take a corner being something to get fans off their seats.
Neymar himself after a difficult build up to the tournament plagued by pressure from Brazilian supporters who feel he is given too much freedom within the Selecao system as well as pressure from a European audience for him to impress following his monumental move to Barcelona seemed to relish the occasion in Brasilia yesterday with his early goal giving him the licence to try things on the pitch without worry of them going awry. The magnitude of Neymar’s performance last night was summed up perfectly in the seventieth minute when Neymar’s substitution was greeted with boos of disappointment that their star man had been removed despite having picked up a knock just minutes earlier. The clever flicks, the back heels and the explosive runs at the full backs were all present in Neymar’s game against Japan with Zaccheroni’s right full back Uchida given a very tough evening although the Schalke defender did impress with his ability to shackle Neymar and continue to try and stop him where weaker defenders would have buckled. This was credit to the Japanese who even at 2-0 down didn’t give up and attempted to test the nervous looking Julio Cesar in the Brazilian goal however Japan’s only real threat was to come via Keisuke Honda set pieces.
Fred after a hardworking performance which didn’t really bear any fruit for the Fluminense forward with Neymar stealing the limelight, was substituted with nine minutes to go giving Jo an appearance in the Confederations Cup that would have come as somewhat of a surprise to the former Manchester City forward following the injury to Leandro Damiao which ruled the Internacional striker out of the tournament. Jo would go onto score his first ever International goal two minutes into injury time following a powerful run from Chelsea’s Oscar before a sublime reverse pass set Jo free in the penalty area and he duly placed the ball through the legs of Kawashima into the back of the Japanese net to ensure the match finished 3-0.
To keep this result into perspective Brazil were playing against a Japanese side far behind them in terms of individual quality as well as fitness however this result is exactly what Scolari and his side needed heading into the rest of the tournament. The heavy pressure upon Brazil was somewhat relaxed by the 3-0 scoreline although the performance from Brazil was not necessarily a 3-0 performance with the upcoming matches against Italy and Mexico likely to be much more of a challenge however Brazil can approach those matches on the back of a victory with the home crowds behind them and possibly more importantly Neymar, with the enigmatic forward full of confidence heading to Fortaleza on Wednesday.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4