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Brazil entered this heavyweight clash in Santiago brimming with confidence and seeking their 13th straight win since manager Dunga was reinstated. After narrowly edging past minnows Peru thanks to Neymar’s brilliance, Brazil topped the group going into this game. However, a much better performance was required if they were to overcome the threat of Colombia, desperately needing victory to avoid elimination from the tournament. With world-class attacking talents such as Neymar, James Rodriguez and Falcao on display and Colombia’s survival in the competition on the line, this had all the makings of a memorable game and was one that would have been worthy to grace the final. Alas, excluding the post-match brawl, this was anything but a memorable game mainly due to Brazil’s awful decision making in the attacking phase and an over-reliance on Neymar as well as a frighteningly high tempo throughout the 90 minutes which denied both sides the opportunity to find any real rhythm in the game. In the 3rd meeting between these teams since their World Cup quarter-final clash in Brazil, Colombia’s superb counter-pressing system and Jeison Murillo’s scrappy finish from Juan Cuadrado’s free kick in the 36th minute ensured a nervy 1-0 victory for los Cafateros.
Brazil (4-2-3-1): 1. Jefferson // 2. Dani Alves, 14. Miranda, 3. Thiago Silva, 6. Filipe Luis // 5. Fernandinho, 8. Elias // 17. Fred, 10. Neymar, 19. Willian // 11. Firmino
Colombia (4-4-2): 1.Ospina // 18. Zuniga, 2. Zapata, 22. Murillo, 7. Armero // 5. Sanchez, 6. Valencia // 11. Cuadrado, 10. Rodriguez // 9. Falcao, 19. Gutierrez
Substitutions: 45’ Coutinho (Fred), 69’ Douglas Costa (Willian), 76’ Diego Tardelli (Elias) // 69’ Ibarbo (Falcao), 76’ Bacca (Gutierrez), 80’ Mejia (Valencia)
Goals: 36’ Murillo
Arguably the key to Colombia’s victory was the counter-pressing they deployed for large parts of the game; as soon as possession was lost they pressed and harried the Brazilian players aiming to win the ball back as high up the pitch as possible. They maintained a high defensive line whenever Brazil were in the build-up phase and aimed to break quickly with Juan Cuadrado, who was a constant threat throughout the game; drawing defenders and fouls and isolating Filipe Luis at every opportunity. It is no surprise that he won 6 fouls during the game, more than any other player. One would assume that that they would be overloaded in midfield due to the deployment of two strikers; however by staggering players on different lines of the field, they became a more compact unit when pressing and limited space between the lines for Brazil to exploit.
They became very narrow when pressing in attempt to force Brazil wide; James’s narrow positioning was essential to this, often times he would lead the pressing for Colombia. However, it did result in an increased freedom for Dani Alves at right back, whose attacking threat can be a potent weapon for any side. He was often left free with acres of space as a result of James’ narrowness; it is no surprise that he was arguably Brazil’s most dangerous player, creating 2 chances, the joint highest in the Brazil side. As well as this, he completed 55 passes (85.5%) and completed 3 crosses in total.
Alves’ constant forays forward led to problems for Brazil in the transition phase however, Colombia were intent on breaking quickly into the wide areas vacated by Alves and Filipe. Falcao and Teo were splitting whenever Colombia hit Brazil on the counter; they drifted into the channels throughout the game, aiming to split Brazil’s CBs Silva and Miranda to create space in the centre.
Despite the brilliance and incredible tactical understanding of the Colombian front 4 when pressing, the most influential player in this game and in my opinion, the Man of the Match was Colombia’s Carlos Sanchez who anchored the midfield to perfection. He was immense throughout, covering the space created between the lines when the front players pressed the Brazil back line and ensuring the half-spaces were occupied so as to not be exploited by Brazil talisman Neymar. Sanchez had him in his pocket for the entire game and was tasked with tracking him loosely when he roamed in the final third. For this reason I feel he was the best player on the field as he completely nullified Neymar which effectively means nullifying Brazil (but more on that later). In total, he made 5 tackles, 5 interceptions and 2 clearances, summing up his excellent performance.
Sanchez’s individual brilliance should not take anything away from what was a masterclass from the entire Colombia team, what made their pressing even more astounding was the intensity with which they did it considering the sweltering heat in Chile.
To criticize one of Brazil’s attacking players individually would be rather unfair as all of them were equally poor, including Brazil’s golden boy Neymar. Although, having to bear the burden of an entire nation and being the only world class attacking player in what is one of the worst Brazil teams for a long time can be very demanding. He is often relied upon in games to produce spontaneous moments of magic when Brazil are lacking invention and are downright average as usual. This theme continued in this game as Neymar, deployed in the no. 10 role and given freedom to roam and alternate positions with Fred out on the left, was the only person Brazil looked to in order to give them the initiative as they struggled to break down Colombia’s defence. It is no surprise that he completed 8 dribbles and was dispossessed 5 times during the game, the 2nd highest in the Brazil team behind Firmino who was awful throughout the game.
Brazil’s lack of depth and penetration when attacking seemed to be the main reason behind their failure to breach the Colombia defence. On a number of occasions Brazil were unable to penetrate the Colombia back line due to a lack of runs being made behind the Colombian back 4 and the lack of a mobile playmaker capable of playing defence splitting passes, a la Coutinho. It came as no surprise that the introduction of Coutinho in the 45th minute led to Brazil becoming more dangerous and creating their best chances of the game.
Firmino’s deployment as a False 9 was also very problematic for Brazil; with Neymar already occupying the 10 space, it led to the two of them often getting in each other’s way, a common problem when including a False 9 in a 4-2-3-1 system. This also contributed to the lack of depth for Brazil when attacking, none of their attacking players looked to force back the Colombian defensive line by sitting on the shoulder of the defence and attempting to penetrate. They also tended to all be on the same horizontal lines of play when attacking, which can lead to attacks being predictable and an inability to play around the opponent as the players have not been staggered. The next image sums up Brazil’s problem perfectly.
One would assume that the positions of the 4 attacking players are intelligent as they are all between the lines, however in order to form triangles and effective combinations to break down an opponent one must ensure that no more than 3 players should be on a horizontal line at the same time. This was compounded even more by a refusal from any of the Brazil attackers to make runs beyond the defence. Fred (red arrow) could have done this but held his position and the attack eventually broke down.
A win for Brazil would have seen them qualify for the quarter-finals and Colombia on the verge of elimination, however the group has now been blown wide open with all 4 teams now on 3 points going into the last group game. Having hung onto their place in the competition by the skin of their teeth, Colombia can now aim for top spot after drawing level on points with a Brazil side who must endure the remainder of the tournament without their key man Neymar, who has been suspended due to a head-butt in the post-match brawl.
Brazil are up against it in the tournament now and have seen their chances of winning the tournament deteriorate substantially without Neymar. But just as in the Peru game this is simply not good enough; they are still yet to pick up the pace in this Copa America after two lacklustre performances and must raise their game completely if they are to win it. Neymar’s absence may prove a blessing in disguise for the Selecao, this may provide the opportunity for other players to step up and for Dunga to create a less Neymar-centric side; because as any good coach knows, an over-reliance on one man can be extremely dangerous.
For more reading on the Copa America, head this way.
Written by Miles Olusina