Observing the Enemy: Brazil

While Korea was taking on Haiti and Croatia, our next opponents, Brazil, were taking on Australia and Portugal. Brazil was impressive in both games. Destroying the Aussies 6-0, and easily beating a Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portugal 3-1. Many are predicting a similar fate for Korea when the samba kings make their way east (or is it west) in a couple weeks, but is there anything Korea can learn from these past two matches and avoid such a situation?

Brazil vs Australia

Brazil Starting XI

Last we talked Brazil, it was during the Confederations Cup in the context of an earlier ‘Observing the Enemy’ piece about Japan (readable here). For the game against Australia, Brazil did make a few of changes to their starting XI. Jo (Atletico Mineiro) started up top instead of Fred (Fluminense), Oscar (Chelsea) and Hulk (Zenit St. Petersburg) were not called, and were replaced by Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk) and Ramires (Chelsea). In defense Dani Alves (Barcelona) did not make the trip and was replaced by Maicon (Roma).

football formations

The personnel change resulted in a slight formation change, from a 4-2-3-1 to something of a 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1. The change of Oscar and Ramires is probably the biggest change as Oscar is a creative midfielder while Ramires is a more high energy box-to-box type. Maicon is certainly not the player he was in his heyday at Inter, but he is still a decent fullback. Bernard is a bit more of a high energy player than Hulk, but largely offers a similar role.


Despite the small changes in players and tactics, Brazil largely relied on a similar strategy that we saw during the Confederations Cup. Using width to stretch the play, and then relying on either individual brilliance or runners into the channels to create goal scoring chances.

Neymar is clearly the creative driving force in this team, and as expected much of the play went through him. Brazil’s build up play is fairly simple. They used the three physical, high energy midfielders (Luis Gustavo, Paulinho, and Ramires) to control possession and the tempo of the match, then spread the play wide to either Neymar or Bernard. The next step would depend on what Neymar and Bernard did with the ball. If they tucked inside then the fullbacks, Marcelo and Maicon, would make runs down the outside. Thus either opening up space (wide midfielders or the fullbacks would have to track them) or creating a chance for a free cross.

football formations

If Neymar and Bernard opted to stay wide, then the fullbacks would often stay deeper and Ramires and Paulinho would make runs into the channels looking for through balls, or Neymar and Bernard could cross for Jo.

football formations

Brazil 1 Australia 0

Brazil’s first goal came from Jo. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest of goals, but as they say, “they all count the same.” Neymar dribbled into the area, where he crossed the ball to the far post where Bernard shot on the volley. Bernard’s shot hit the post and dropped kindly at Jo’s feet who had the simple task of smashing home.

Brazil 2 Australia 0

After a rare venture forward, Australia found themselves exposed on the break. Brazil had been targeting Aussie left back Matt McKay (formerly of Busan IPark), McKay is naturally a midfielder, and here his defensive frailties were exposed. As Bernard’s run beat him. Bernard put in a cross, Jo lost his marker, and prodded the ball home for his and Brazil’s second.

Brazil 3 Australia 0

Brazil’s third came almost immediately after the second, with Neymar getting on the scoresheet. Again, a run from deep proved the key thing, as Paulinho played a beautiful through ball to Neymar, who easily out sprinted the defense for a simple goal.

Brazil 4 Australia 0

The fourth was a fairly simple goal as well. Some nice build up play saw the ball end up with Maxwell (subbed on for Marcelo) on the left. He crossed deep where Ramires simply beat his man in the air to head home.

Brazil 5 Australia 0

Goal number 5 came courtesy of Alexandre Pato. Australia didn’t pressure Brazil at all as Maxwell and Neymar largely walked from their own penalty box up to the Australia box unchallenged. Hernanes (I think) made a nice little chip pass over the defense to Neymar who crossed to Pato who tapped in at close range.

Brazil 6 Australia 0

The sixth and final goal for Brazil came from Koo Ja-Cheol’s Wolfsburg teammate Luiz Gustavo. Who smashed home from outside the box.

Honestly there weren’t too many moments of brilliance from Brazil. Their chances were well taken, but Australia never looked like they were really up for it. Some of the goals, particularly goals 4 and 5 in my opinion were pretty softly conceded, and largely down to defensive lapses.

Brazil vs Portugal

Starting XI

Brazil made just one change to their starting XI from the one that destroyed Australia with Maxwell coming on for Marcelo. Otherwise it was same as with: Julio Cesar; Maicon, Thiago Silva, David Luiz; Paulinho, Luis Gustavo, Ramires; Bernard, Neymar, and Jo.


Tactically Brazil largely stayed the same, at least on the offensive end. Using Neymar and Bernard to get the attacks going. Again what the two of them did largely keyed the rest of the team. When they stayed wide you would see Ramires and Paulinho make runs into the box, and when they went in you would see Maxwell and Maicon make overlapping runs. There were some small differences though. The fullbacks didn’t make as many runs, neither are quite the rampaging backs they used to be, and the slightly higher talent level of the Portugal squad kept them back. Ramires and Paulinho were similarly less aggressive with their runs, generally staying a bit deeper than against Australia. The attacking result is that Neymar and Bernard (Neymar especially) took a few more chances with long range shots, and the Brazil attack was a bit less efficient.

Defensively, the major change was the pressing. Brazil didn’t press too much in the first game, with Australia largely just hoofing it clear (allowing the defense to easily sweep up). Against Portugal, Brazil pressed hard, and high up the pitch. For stretches it was highly effective, like against Spain at the Confederations Cup, and Portugal really struggled to get out of their half. However, there was plenty of space behind the Brazil defense for when Portugal did manage to break through. Had Cristiano Ronaldo been in the Portugal side, I wonder if Brazil would have maintained the high level pressing. As it was though, Portugal rarely managed anything truly threatening.

Portugal 1 Brazil 0

Sloppy from Brazil here. Maicon tried to cushion a soft header back to Julio Cesar, but Raul Meireles read it and intercepted and scored.

Portugal 1 Brazil 1

Brazil leveled minutes later from a corner. Thiago Silva was unmarked near the edge of the box. He ran in, and powered a header into the corner.

Portugal 1 Brazil 2

Brazil took the lead through a beautiful goal by Neymar. Neymar picked the ball up in the middle of the pitch, charged forward on his own, beating practically the entire Portuguese defense on his own before slotting past Rui Patricio.

Portugal 1 Brazil 3

Brazil wrapped things up through Jo. Neymar passed to the overlapping Maxwell, who crossed to a wide open Jo, who finished with ease. A defensive lapse by Bruno Alves and Neto who failed to pick up Jo.

Lessons to Learn

Certainly there are a few points to pick up from these two matches. So, let’s go over them now, and in the match preview (hopefully up tomorrow) we’ll discuss possible solutions to them.

1) Neymar – Kind of the ‘duh’ one, but how teams deal with Neymar is the biggest issue. While Brazil has several top-class players, most of them aren’t game changers on their own. Often it is somehow through Neymar that Brazil works their magic. Neymar, like his Argentinian counterpart at Barcelona, is incredibly hard to deal with as he possesses pace, balance, and control. To use a basketball analogy, he’s like a guard who has a quick first step and can shoot from distance. Stand off him and he’ll get close enough to goal to shoot (with accuracy and power). Close him down, and he’ll skip by you. Neymar can’t be dealt with one-on-one by most fullbacks, and certainly not by what Korea has at right back.

2) Attacking fullbacks – If Brazil does start their strongest XI (which reports have hinted they are contractually obligated to do so), then we should see Marcelo and Dani Alves at left and right back respectively. Both are extremely attack minded, so having disciplined, track back wide midfielders will be important. If you read the OtE piece I did on Japan back during the Confederations Cup, you will remember that Japan was severely hurt by Marcelo and Dani Alves’ attacking runs. Marcelo played against Australia, and has shown a decent link up with Neymar. Dani Alves is a known quantity and will certainly be a handful on the right.

3) Jo and the center forwards – I suspect that Jo will start the match despite some reports hinting that it could be Hulk or even Pato. Jo scored three goals against Australia/Portugal, with most of them being poacher type goals. Jo isn’t very mobile, but he is big and strong, and will be a handful for most of our centerbacks. The challenge will be dealing with the variety of types that Korea is likely to deal with. Jo would be unlikely to play the whole match, and the difference between him and Pato and Fred (and Hulk) is quite great.

4) Power and guile in the midfield – The midfield poses a similar problem. The midfield trio that started against Australia and Portugal has plenty of power and energy. Ramires, Paulinho, Luiz Gustavo. But that midfield can change quickly with the introduction of Hernanes or Oscar. Oscar needs little introduction given his presence at Chelsea. A skillful attacking midfielder with good technique, but also tactical discipline. Hernanes is a player with excellent passing and vision who plays a bit deeper than Oscar. Potentially three different midfields to cope with through out the game.

5) Energy – When they really need to, Brazil has energy to spare, and if there’s a simple way to summarize their style, it’s high energy. Brazil get up and down the pitch quickly. They don’t spend too much time passing the ball backwards and sideways (unless they need to). And if they want to, they press very high and hard.

About Jae Chee 339 Articles
A football fan who got bit by the writing bug.


    • For Brazil-Korea? I’m sure there will be plenty since Brazil is involved. For legal reasons though I can’t mention any other than the ones provided by legitimate broadcasters.

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