1. Colombia sacrificed midfield creativity for wing play – and it paid off
Since taking the Colombia job, Argentine coach José Pékerman has established a basic standard of selecting four defenders, two deep midfielders, and four attackers. Within these parameters, there are a number of variations Pékerman can make, depending on the match situation and the level of opposition.
One of the main variations concerns the deep midfield duo, and is a choice between creativity and solidity. On the one hand, you have Fredy Guarín of Internazionale and Monarcas’ Aldo Leão Ramírez – both strong, competitive midfielders, but with great vision and a wide passing range. On the other, there are players like Deportivo’s Abel Aguilar, Valenciennes’ Carlos Sánchez and Fluminense’s Edwin Valencia. All three are holding midfielders, tasked with breaking up play and covering Colombia’s marauding full-backs.
Against Brazil, Pékerman ignored Ramírez, and went with two defensive-minded midfielders in Valencia and Sánchez. The plan was to shore up the middle of the field, while attacking Brazil down both flanks with Juan Guillermo Cuadrado and Pablo Armero.
Cuadrado’s selection was perhaps more significant, as he is usually played as a right-sided midfielder or winger, so it was obvious that Pékerman was putting a lot of faith in their wing play, especially against an inexperienced Brazil left flank with Leandro Castán and Thiago Neves.
To combat the decrease in creativity in the centre of the field, Pékerman instructed Porto’s James Rodríguez to start from a deeper position and help Colombia’s main playmaker Macnelly Torres.
The decision paid off, and Colombia’s only goal came through a bursting forward run from Cuadrado on the right, and a deliciously disguised pass from the drifting James Rodríguez.
2. Pairing Jackson Martínez and Falcao is futile
While Pékerman got his selection spot-on in defence and midfield, his choice of forward line did not work out as well as he might have hoped. In a staggered 4-2-1-3 formation, Colombia started the match with Porto’s Jackson Martínez playing off Radamel Falcao García as a kind of second striker, and the two never seemed to click.
After some excellent performances in Portugal, few could argue that Jackson did not deserve a place in the side. However, I expressed concerns pre-match that there is no room in the Colombia starting XI for both Jackson and Falcao. The reason? They are too alike.
In fact, one of the main reasons why Jackson has been able to settle in so quickly to the Porto setup is that he is so similar to El Tigre, who left Portugal for Atlético Madrid in August 2011. Porto’s midfield was already accustomed to working with that type of forward – a powerful, front-to-goal No.9 – so when Jackson arrived, he slotted in perfectly. A six feet peg in a six feet hole, if you will.
Against Brazil, Jackson and Falcao seemed to get in each other’s way. Seeing as they play in the same position, they both took up the same spaces and it was easier for Brazil’s defence to contain. Furthermore, neither is particularly adept at linking play, and they both need to be surrounded by creative players.
The bad news for Jackson Martínez is Falcao is always going to be Colombia’s first choice. If Jackson wants to get in the team, he will have to try to adapt to another role in Colombia’s attacking system. However, Falcao will always need an understudy!
3. Doubts about Brazil’s midfield pair may be justified
Two weeks ago I wrote at length about the Seleção, and I touched on the idea that their current midfield partnership of Paulinho and Ramires may be too ‘lightweight’ against top-level opposition. While Mano Menezes’s system dictates that the two central midfielders must be able to defend and attack, combining Paulinho and Ramires felt like too much attack and not enough defence.
Last night, Paulinho played marvellously. On the other hand, Ramires looked lost and spread too thin. Tasked with watching over Macnelly Torres and the magnificent James Rodríguez, as well as with initiating attacking moves, Ramires struggled to get the balance right and ended up committing silly fouls and not getting forward much.
Perhaps with a player like Sandro in there – a genuine primeiro volante – the quality of defence and attack would have improved. As for the segundo volante role, Paulinho is looking increasingly undroppable.
4. Brazil DO have a goalkeeper
Despite what the Brazilian media may have you believe, the Seleção does have a clear first-choice goalkeeper. Since his debut in the friendly win in Gabon in November 2011, Diego Alves has only missed one match for the full Brazil side.
The common perception in newspapers and on television is that Mano Menezes is constantly trying to make up his mind over whom to hand the number one shirt to, when Diego Alves has been his man for a long time.
Last night was Diego’s seventh match in goal for the full Brazilian national team, and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado’s 28th minute strike was the first goal he has conceded for the Seleção.
5. Neymar is always value for money
Often criticised (and rightly so) for not performing against top-level opposition, Neymar’s wonderful goal last night felt like something of a turning point. Even though Colombia were doing their best to reduce his space throughout the match, he still managed to squeeze through and with some glorious tight dribbling skills, he brought Brazil level.
Moments like last night make me yearn to see him playing in Europe, facing challenges every week. The January transfer window will give him a great opportunity to up sticks and take on the Old World, but Santos are adamant that he will remain in São Paulo until after the 2014 World Cup.
As an avid supporter of the Brazilian leagues, I am privileged enough to have been able to watch Neymar week-in week-out for the past three years. However come January, I’d much rather see him featuring in a Spanish clasico or the knockout stages of the Champions League, than once again humiliating part-time Catanduvense in the São Paulo state championships.