As far as recoveries go, on the back of a humiliation at your home World Cup, Brazil’s has been rather emphatic.
After re-appointing iconic World Cup-winning skipper Dunga as boss—not a popular choice for all, it must said—they’ve won eight games in succession since that humbling at the hands of Germany in Belo Horizonte. But during their latest 1-0 win over Chile at a colorful Emirates stadium, it was clear this a team still searching for a swagger to complement their renewed fortitude.
A Roberto Firmino goal gave the Selecao the edge in this fiercely contested friendly encounter, as La Roja contained their South American counterparts for long spells in their unique, high-octane style.
Aside from a few fleeting glimpses of his talent, Neymar was well-shackled by Chile—perhaps a little too physically at times—and subsequently, Brazil were a little one-dimensional. While an imbalanced France side in Paris allowed the Barcelona star the time and space to wreak havoc between the lines, Chile denied the Brazil skipper that luxury.
He failed to dazzle as an orthodox No. 10 for the second time in two matches as Charles Aranguiz, Arturo Vidal and, most notably, Gary Medel snapped around his slender ankles amidst a convoluted midfield.
Aside from the odd flickering of vibrancy, Neymar was anonymous in the first 45 minutes. Plus, with Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho failing to see the much of the ball on the left-hand side, Douglas Costa ploughing a lonely furrow on the right and neither Fernandino or Souza at the base of the midfield able thread incisive passes through the relentless La Roja squeeze, the game quickly became arduous.
Dunga was quick to emphasize in the post-match press conference that while this team remains somewhat reliant on Neymar, they must try “every option” as they continue to build towards the Copa America. But without their star man on song, the samba style was shelved.
Even Firmino played a couple of heavy passes before making his match-winning contribution, racing onto a delectable through-ball from reported Real Madrid and Barcelona target Danilo. The pass, the delicate touch to round the goalkeeper and the finish from the Hoffenheim man was an isolated classy moment in a flurry of foiled attacking forays for the five-time world champions.
To their credit, this was a spirited performance from the Chileans on the back of a 2-0 loss to Iran in their previous outing. Alexis Sanchez was magnificent for Jorge Sampaoli’s side, causing myriad problems at the point of Jorge Sampaoli’s engrossing 3-4-3 system and thrilling the Emirates crowd in what is now a very familiar manner.
“We dominated Brazil”, said their effervescent boss in the aftermath of the contest. “And not many teams do that”.
To say they dominated may be a little mawkish, but Chile were definitely a match for their more illustrious opponents and the manner in which they thwarted Brazil for long spells will come as something as a concern to Dunga. It certainly did little to dispel the notion that this team which can be halted when their talismanic star is nullified.
But there are positives to take from this encounter, as well as the new boss’ reign as a whole. Admittedly, this is a Selecao side that was much-changed from that impressive win in France and they missed the marriage of poise and panache that is provided by men like Luis Gustavo, Oscar and Willian up against their unrelenting opponents here.
It’s something Dunga noted afterwards. “We are building a competitive team”, said the Selecao boss. “We changed six players (from the France game) but we are still working well”.
There’s little denying that. This is a squad that is becoming especially adept at churning results out in a pragmatic manner that their manager—a canny defensive midfielder in his heyday—will be understatedly proud of. Indeed, Dunga was quick to praise the cohesion this team has showcased ever since he took over the reigns on the back of the disastrous World Cup campaign.
The wounds from that night in Belo Horizonte will take a long time to heal for the nation and the pensive new manager seems to be nurturing them back to health studiously.
Given the rebuilding job still to come and this team’s festering winning mentality, the signs point towards brighter days for Brazil. Still, there are undeniable refinements to be made with the summer’s Copa America—which looks set to be one of the most competitive ever—looming large on the horizon.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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