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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Individual Previews of USA Versus Brasil by Dan Leo

Individual Previews of USA versus Brasil
by Dan Leo for World Football Commentaries.

Steve wrote a preview of the Brazilian Seleção for today's friendly in Chicago with the US Men's National Team. I will now provide individual commentaries about how the Yanks will match up against the Samba Kings of Carlos Caetano Ferri Dunga.

Howard - Timmy's been playing very well at Everton but may get tested on a few trick shots that he doesn't always see in England where there's a tendency to apply full power to everything. In particular, watch out for Ronnie's and Kaka's various chips and slices, including on free kicks.

Cherundolo - Dunga will probably try to isolate Ronaldinho on Stevie. It'd be interesting to see if the fullback plays off or tight and whether he'll try to push Ronnie into the defensive zone (Ronnie scarcely plays any defense, even perfunctory, at Barcelona).

Onyewu - he probably matches up better with Afonzo than with Vagner Love but should be fast enough to offer a decent positional play. VL is no Obafemi Martins, speed wise, but he's no slouch, either. He'll also fake the dribble and then pull up for a shot.

Bocanegra - paired with Pearce or Spector to his left, he won't have to cover his neighbor's mistakes as often. But he will have to watch out for Vagner Love try to split him and Gooch, and for Robinho try to take his marker inside. Presumably, if Robinho is successful at it, Love will make runs into the gap right behind Bocanegra. A repeat of the Middlesbrough finale would be most unwelcome.

Pearce/Spector - whichever starts will have to mark Robinho. Pearce can match the Brazilian for speed but perhaps not for step overs; however, Pearce does have excellent recovery. One hopes.

Bradley - (OK, I assume he goes 90) if he is matched up against Kaka', he may have a difficult time and, with Mastroeni and Ricardo Clark out, Benny better help his teammate or Kaka may score a hat-trick by himself and set up another one for Ronaldinho. Giving up free kicks inside their own 30 yard zone would be very foolish as well.

Feilhaber - he'd have to play a very strong 2-way game here. If Dunga has Elano play the mirror-position for the Seleção, Benny will be going against a very good performer indeed.

Beasley - me thinks Maicon and Dani will eat him alive. He'd have to get passes behind them or he's going to lose the ball much like Mapp was losing it to Zanetti in the Argentina game at Copa America. Maicon (who often is preferred as a starter at Inter Milan over Zanetti) will foray into the offensive zone on almost every attack, so coordinating the defensive effort between Beasley and Pearce/Spector will be very important. 2-on-2 vs. Maicon and Robinho is a tough assignment to win.

Wolff - he'll try to cross for Dempsey in the box but, if Clint is there by himself, Josh will have to find someone else to combine with. Normally, Cherundolo would be pushing forward on the right, but Coach Bob Bradely may curtail those activities too. If he gets left on the right alone, Josh will struggle against Gilberto.

Donovan - will have a speed advantage over the Brazilian central defenders but those guys are really good. I mean really really good on the ball. I am not even sure what sort of offense Bob will try to play. Crosses from flanks didn't do much vs. Sweden, and are likely to do even less here because of the Brazilian transition defense.

Dempsey - he'd have to play for a through ball, which would be hard because Gilberto Silva isn't likely to allow many of them and the Brazilian defenders - unless Juan has a brain fart - have more than enough pace to play Clint straight.

If Bob Bradley starts Dempsey on the right and Eddie Johnson in the middle, the key would be to get Eddie open over the top.

Unless Brazil takes this game a tad too nonchalantly, it'll be tough. Their second stringers will try to make an impression and their first stringers are that good.

Vagner Love (CSKA) and Gilberto (Hertha Berlin) are probably two of their weaker players based on their pedigree.

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Post-game Analysis

One of the reasons the US wasn't dominated by Brazil in midfield was because Brazil, as was evident from the last World Cup, has become a team of two halves - the piano players and the piano movers.

The "piano players" rarely cross the midfield line (into the own half) and the "piano movers" rarely venture beyond it. That was Parreira's system and, IMO, it did not serve the Brazilian team well. The set-up requires an unreasonable division of labor, so Brazil attacks with 4-5 players and defends with 6. That is the allowance for its stars but it works usually against the mid-tier squads like the US but not against top squads that can transition from defense to offense and vice versa.

Another Brazilian problem is that its current forwards (as they await on Jo and Pato to mature) are just not that good. When France plays a defense-first system, it can at least expect Henry, Anelka, Trezeguet, Ribery, Malouda and Saha (whichever play) to create something by themselves. Brazil does not have that luxury with Afonso and Vagner Love.

Thus, Dunga repeated Parreira's approach (it's not odd since Dunga was the captain of Parreira's WC winning squad) and went with twin double-mids instead of taking a slightly more adventurous route and substitute one of them (likely Mineiro) for another attacker (Vagner Love, Julio Baptista or Diego).

So, Brazil came out in 4-5-1 against a team that really wasn't a threat to dominate it in the middle. This was not much different than the US using twin defensive mids vs. Guatemala last March. There was no need for them either offensively or defensively.

But the formation meant that Brazil attacked with Afonso, Ronnie, Kaka', Robinho and often Maicon against a packed US defense with the bulk of its players behind the ball. Thus, its inability to create much wasn't unexpected. The World Cup squad struggled to score as well and eked out marginal victories against Serbia (a long distance strike by Kaka') and Australia (late two goals) and, of course, it was shut out by France in the quarters.

Its best offensive performance came in a largely meaningless win over Japan in an attacking 4-1-4-1 (with Juninho Pernambucano joining the Big Trio in midfield) but Dunga didn't seem to be willing to take risks yesterday.

So the US was the beneficiary of the Brazilian coach's preference for a low scoring, carefully played contest, rather than a potentially higher scoring one that entailed more risks.

And, as I said before the match about Dunga's 4-5-1, that made the US look a lot better than it may have otherwise.

About the Author

Dan Leo is a freelance writer based from Miami, Florida.

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