Brazil appear to be hitting full throttle right when it counts with the Selecao progressing to the Semi-Final stage of their Confederations Cup with relative ease after winning all three of their group matches which included a highly impressive 4-2 victory over the much fancied Italy who like Brazil have also impressed thus far this summer. Brazil after finishing top of Group A, have the virtue of avoiding Spain in the first Semi-Final and will face the runners up of Group B, Uruguay. Brazil and Uruguay have quite the history in International competition with the great Brazilian defeat to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup “final” being remembered in a disastrous light by Brazil to this day.
Uruguay head into their Semi-Final match against Brazil on Wednesday in somewhat mixed form with Oscar Tabarez’s side having looked simply woeful against Spain in their tournament opener before scraping a 2-1 victory against Nigeria which all but saw the South American’s through with only Tahiti left to play, who they would go onto defeat 8-0. I could quite easily be sat here looking towards a Brazil-Nigeria Semi-Final with the African side having for the most part played far greater football than the Uruguayans with Nigeria in the first half at least giving Spain’s defence a number of problems yesterday evening however courtesy of a Diego Forlan wonder goal Uruguay progressed.
There hasn’t been the same attacking zip to the Uruguay team which we have come to expect from La Celeste following their eye catching attacking displays in South Africa at the last World Cup and in the 2011 Copa America with coach Tabarez struggling to accommodate the three of Luiz Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan into his starting eleven, especially with his preference towards Gaston Ramirez in the ‘false nine’ role just behind the forwards. As well as issues going forward there has been alarming problems at the heart of Uruguay’s defence with the ever reliable Diego Lugano in the twilight years of his well travelled career, unable to defend at an international level any longer.
The former Fenerbahce central defender has found himself unable to keep up with the pace of opposition attackers with Nigeria giving him a real problem with their pace in abundance going forward and his positioning has also fallen short of what is required at International level. Tabarez upon entering the tournament knew this would be a problem and tried to combat it by deploying Lugano as a libero style Sweeper with Diego Godin and Martin Caceres as the two central defenders just ahead of him, therefore allowing Lugano to save his energy and only really have to sweep up any danger that gets past Godin and Caceres. Whilst in theory this was a good idea it has backfired due to the poor performances of Godin and Caceres with their positioning being called into question on a number of occasions with particular reference to Nigeria’s equalising goal against Uruguay last week where Diego Lugano was left on his own in the penalty area against John Obi Mikel who waltzed round him with ease. This is an area where Uruguay will have to tighten up significantly if they are to have any chance of stopping the man of the tournament so far, Neymar.
Brazil after heading into their home Confederations Cup under immense pressure and in poor form on the pitch the Selecao has gone from strength to strength in each game they have played. After impressing initially but not for a concerted period of time against Japan in their first match they then improved and dominated a Mexico side that had the players to pose a threat before going on to produce their best performance of the tournament on Saturday evening in a 4-2 victory over Italy.
Over the course of the past three matches everything has come together for Brazil, the fans amidst scenes of extreme violence and protest on the streets of Brazil have joined together to back the Selecao with considerable fervour, Neymar has shrugged off all the pressure placed upon him by an expectant audience both at home and throughout Europe by scoring in every game of the tournament thus far and the midfield pairing of Luis Gustavo and Paulinho have adapted to each other’s games superbly well and this has allowed them to dominate games from the middle of the pitch. However there is still one area which bothers me about the Brazilian team and that is predictably, the defence.
Luiz Felipe Scolari has gone with Daniel Alves and Marcelo as his full backs for the tournament with both having a preference to go forward and support attacks down their respective flank however this, particularly in the case of Marcelo has caused defensive focus to be put to one side which has shown signs of being potentially damaging for Brazil if they were to come up against a more potent attack. Italy gained a lot of space down the left hand side with Emanuele Giaccherini scoring the Italian’s equaliser after a Mario Balotelli flick found the Juventus midfielder on his own down the left hand side with Marcelo nowhere to be found, this then put Thiago Silva under a great deal of pressure with the Paris Saint Germain defender having to make a decision whether to close Giaccherini down making a routine cutback easy for the Italian or staying central and hoping Giaccherini missed.
David Luiz at centre half has also given me some worries with regards to Brazil’s solidity at the back and the Chelsea defender’s tendency to dive in and try and nick the ball away from an attacker’s feet has seen Thiago Silva put under increased pressure when Luiz has mistimed his lunge forward. The quick feet and clever movement of Luis Suarez as well as his preference to go to ground under minimal contact could render David Luiz’s style of defender problematic and Luis Felipe Scolari certainly has a decision to make as to whether he wants to introduce the much more reliable Dante who did impress during his time on the pitch against Italy, to the starting line-up to combat the speed and movement of Suarez.
Oscar Tabarez has found there is little substitute for experience with Diego Forlan when selected to start against Nigeria impressing sizeably and it is expected that the former Manchester United forward will once again feature in Uruguay’s starting line-up against Brazil alongside Suarez and Cavani with La Celeste knowing their only chance of progressing through to the final is to exploit Brazil’s defensive weaknesses. Should as I expect, Tabarez go with the aforementioned three pronged forward attack then it is unlikely Gaston Ramirez will start and this in turn puts pressure on Uruguay in the middle of midfield with Perez and Gargano going up against Gustavo and Paulinho directly with Gargano likely being trusted to sit slightly behind Perez.
This is a system which when pitted against Brazil thrive, with the power of Gustavo and Paulinho stopping an opposition’s midfield two from gaining any foothold in the game as we saw with Endo and Hasebe in the tournament opener where Hasebe was forced far deeper than Japanese coach Zaccheroni would have liked due to the forward runs of Paulinho. There is every chance this could happen to Gargano should Oscar Tabarez choose not to play Gaston Ramirez.
Brazil will be mindful of the threat Uruguay pose going forward however it Luis Gustavo and Paulinho do the job they have been doing together throughout the tournament, bar the final match against Italy which Paulinho missed through injury then there is a big chance Suarez, Cavani and Forlan will become isolated. Coach Oscar Tabarez alternatively might see this coming and choose to sacrifice one of his attacking trio and pack the middle of the midfield.
Prediction: Brazil are obvious favourites for the first Confederations Cup Semi-Final and with good reason, they are in fine fettle and show no signs of regressing and with Neymar seemingly having the ability to turn everything he touches into gold, it promises to be a very tough ninety minutes at least for Uruguay especially if they don’t rectify their defensive problems before heading to Belo Horizonte on Wednesday evening. With Uruguay having not performed to their potential throughout the tournament so far it is difficult to see them producing the required performance necessary to beat Brazil and for Oscar Tabarez’s men to reach the final Uruguay may well not to surprise Brazil either with their selection or style of play. To conclude I think Brazil’s quality across the pitch in particularly Neymar on the left hand side will be more than too much for Uruguay and I can see Brazil reaching the final comfortably by a score of 2-0.
Follow Chris Winterburn on Twitter @Chriswin4