Brazil threw the kitchen sink at Belgium, and then some more, and in my opinion they can be proud of their efforts last night. But what went wrong?
It is not often that a team takes 27 shots and ends up losing a match. And its not often that you have a team with players as good as Belgium’s clinging on like they did for 45 minutes. But it happened in Kazan last night and Belgium beat Brazil 2 – 1 in the World Cup quarter final. Brazil are out. And their wait for a sixth World Cup goes on.
But what should we make of last night’s loss? Rest assured, this will be talked about for years to come in Brazil. These are my thoughts on why Brazil lost – there are four reasons. The first, individual mistakes, seems to be getting most of the attention in the Brazilian media so far. And it’s true – Brazil made some big mistakes last night, in attack and in defence. And they were costly. How did Fernandinho get his header so wrong for that corner? Why did Gabriel Jesus jump so high, right in front of him, and miss the ball? And why didn’t Alisson make the save?
There were mistakes on Belgium’s second goal too. Collectively, why did Brazil’s players give Belgium, and Romelu Lukaku, so much space to run into? Paulinho and Fernandinho both had the chance to stop the move from developing, even if that meant taking a yellow card for the team. They should have. It didn’t help Brazil that Belgium scored first, which made it easier for them to play to their strength and hit Brazil on the counter attack with their power and pace.
But were Brazil a bit too desperate to equalise after going behind? You would have to say yes – they had plenty of time to get back into the match and didn’t need to throw caution into the wind at that stage and leave themselves so exposed. Tite could have got his team to manage that better, but I will get on to Tite in a minute.
There were costly individual mistakes from Brazil in attack too. In the last 15 minutes Philippe Coutinho hoofed the ball wide when he looked certain to score. Renato Augusto missed the target when he had just the keeper to beat. And Roberto Firmino blasted high and wide from about five yards with a shot on the turn. You can’t expect to win a World Cup quarter final after making so many mistakes.
Yet despite all of those errors, in my opinion, Brazil deserved to get something from this match for the way they played. Can anybody say that they didn’t think Brazil were going to equalise? You didn’t feel a Colombian goal was coming against England a few nights ago, but you did feel a second Brazil goal was coming last night. It never did. That’s football sometimes. But the way Brazil pressed and probed, incessantly, to find the equaliser was very impressive. They also came up against Thibault Courtois, who was in inspired form.
Second, Brazil were just unlucky. They hit the post. And there were several balls that bounced around the Belgian box that could easily have fallen to a Brazilian attacker but didn’t. Did I mention the penalty? Some people (including the useless VAR team) will say that it was not a penalty because the ball was out of play when Kompany fouled Jesus. Check the video again. Kompany’s leg first made contact with Jesus’s leg when the ball was still in play. Besides, Kompany made no contact with the ball.
What would have happened if that penalty was awarded? Let me tell you: Neymar would have taken it and scored, Brazil would have scored again (like they did), which would have taken the game to 2 – 2. And if the game had gone to 2 – 2, well, you decide. In my eyes, there was only ever going to be one winner if Brazil had equalised. Of course, this didn’t happen and Brazil ultimately ended on the wrong side of that fine line between success and failure.
I don’t want to take anything away from Belgium. They have some great players and if you were in their shoes, of course you were going to sit back and defend against Brazil when you are 2 – 0 up in a World Cup quarter final. They also got their tactics spot on. Bringing in Marouane Fellaini not only shored up their midfield, but it allowed Kevin de Bruyne to flourish further up the pitch, like he does for Manchester City. It also made Belgium much better at set pieces, both attacking and defending, which ultimately made the difference. Putting Romelu Lukaku on the right wing, where his pace and power caused Brazil all kinds of problems, was another masterstroke. Eden Hazard was excellent too.
You would have to say that Roberto Martinez pulled a tactical masterstroke on Tite. Unlike Martinez, Tite made no changes to his preferred lineup or formation for this game. Marcelo came in for Felippe Luis, but he was always going to come straight back in when fully fit. In hindsight, you would have to say that Tite was too inflexible with his team selection both in this competition and before it. By sticking with the same players, the same formation and the same tactics, even in the friendlies, he failed to develop a clear plan B. Not only did substitutes not get much game time (meaning they weren’t as fresh as they could be), but Brazil didn’t have a second way to play if needed.
I can see why Tite did things this way: lets get so good at plan A, that we don’t need a plan B. The stability of his team selection seemed to give the players conidence in what they were doing and it also helped to develop a club-style atmosphere in the team, which was also one of Brazil’s strengths in this competition. If it had worked, and it almost did, Tite would have looked like a genius. At the end of the day, it didn’t
My last observation is that this was not the best Seleção team of all time – they lacked some key players. The defence is very good and Alisson is top keeper, even if he didn’t show it at this competition. But Brazil’s attack was not quite to the high standard that we have come to expect. Gabriel Jesus is still just a kid and he has a lot of talent – but he is no Ronaldo, or Ronaldinho, or Romario. It is very rare for a Brazil number 9 to come away from the tournament with no goals. But that’s what happened and Brazil lacked options in that position. Willian and Paulinho were not really up to scratch either. Douglas Costa was excellent when he came on, again, and its a shame that his game time in this competition has been limited by injuries. Casemiro, suspended yesterday, was also badly missed.
I don’t agree with the claim of some that Brazil were arrogant or complacent and expected to turn up and win. That was the case in 2006, when they had a better team but were well beaten by France. Not yesterday and not in this tournament. The players were very aware that being favourites counted for nothing when they crossed the white line and that they had to fight for the win.
So there you go: some bad luck, costly individual mistakes, some inflexibility of the coach and not having their best ever team. Given all of that, I thought that Brazil’s efforts yesterday were pretty damn good. And they can hold their heads high for he way they played in that second half and how they kept going. For me, jogo bonito is not dead. Not by a long way.
That’s the brazilfooty view. What have I missed and what did I get wrong? What do you think? Leave a comment below – join the debate. All you need to do is enter your name and email address – hint: they don’t even need to be real.