Five Points: Brazil embraces pragmatic side, Germany returns to efficient roots
JUL 04, 2014 10:15p ET
Every match brings Brazil closer to its goal. Function matters more than form this point. It isn't a matter of entertainment, though the expectant country wants a bit of flash with its victories. It is about finding a way to win the World Cup for the sixth time.
The road to glory at the Maracana looks even more perilous now in the wake of the 2-1 victory over Colombia. Brazil dispatched one challenge, but it faces yet another with Neymar now ruled out for the remainder of the tournament. This edition of Five Points explains how Brazil plans to keep marching along anyways to achieve glory on home soil.
Brazil embraces pragmatic streak to reach last four
The crunching challenge by Fernandinho on James Rodriguez inside the opening quarter of an hour crudely reinforced the approach required to navigate through this difficult fixture. Brazil did not take the field to captivate. The home side instead preferred to disrupt the Colombians and exploit their weaknesses to grind out a result.
Most of the first half proceeded according to those objectives. The first goal resulted from astute play through midfield – Fernandinho played quickly and directly to Neymar in the space vacated by Juan Zuniga to catch the Colombians out and win a corner kick – and another piece of set piece execution from Thiago Silva. The shape then took hold to jar Colombia out of its preferred modus operandi and limit the exposure defensively. The selection of Maicon over Dani Alves on the right worked out, by and large. The lenient and staggeringly poor referee abetted those actions.
Those measures took a bit of a hit in the second half after Colombia adjusted wisely and located its footing a bit more, but the Selecao muddled through nevertheless. David Luiz's stunning free kick doubled the advantaged and essentially secured safe passage. This side – even when it wobbles – isn't likely to concede twice with 20 minutes to play, though Colombia nearly managed the feat.
Luiz Felipe Scolari will consider this a job fairly well done, but he must wonder how his side will cope with Germany on Tuesday. Thiago Silva picked up a needless booking after the interval to earn a one-match suspension. Neymar – the most vibrant force going forward by some distance – is now ruled out after fracturing a vertebrae. His absence shifts the creative burden onto Hulk and Oscar and underscores the continued need for practicality and solidity.
Brazil managed to strip away much of the verve from the most entertaining side in the tournament. It is the sort of pragmatic approach required for this side to overcome the absence of its two key figures and vault the last hurdle to that precious date at the Maracana on July 13.
Colombia pushes Brazil in the second half with tactical shift
The rigors of this particular match forced Jose Pekerman to reassess his tactics at the outset. Pekerman opted to switch to a 4-2-3-1 setup to match Scolari's shape and position his team to operate in possession. The decision to start Fredy Guarin in central midfield reflected a desire to move forward first and foremost, while the deployment of Rodriguez behind Teo Gutierrez left the playmaker to spend much of the first half getting kicked by Fernandinho and Paulinho. It made sense in theory, but it didn't come off quite as planned after Brazil scored the early goal and thwarted any Colombian attempts to establish a reliable cadence after that point.
The choppy first half prompted Pekerman to revert to a 4-4-2 setup after the interval. The switch pushed Rodriguez into a free role away from the two holding players and slotted Adrian Ramos alongside Gutierrez up top. The move allowed Rodriguez to exert more influence over the match in a roving role and inspire the second half improvement.
Rodriguez eventually played a substantive part in both second half goals. His sloppy challenge gave away the foul for David Luiz's sumptuous free kick, while another clever pass on the break carved open the Brazilian defense and paved the way for him to convert from the spot. He could not conjure a late equalizer, but his display in this game met the lofty standards established earlier in the tournament.
It did not prove enough to send Colombia through, but Rodriguez and his teammates depart with considerable credit after a fine run to the last eight. This group encountered Brazil on home soil and tested the favorites before exiting the scene. It is a solid foundation to build upon in the coming years.
German efficiency returns to produce methodical performance
Jogi Löw spent much of this tournament steering away from his most sensible options to the chagrin of his countrymen. He finally swerved back toward normalcy before the 1-0 victory over France. Philipp Lahm returned to his natural role at right back. Per Mertesacker dropped out against the mobile French front three to allow the returning Mats Hummels to partner Jerome Boateng. Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger both featured in central midfield. Miroslav Klose supplied a touchstone up front and then yielded to Andre Schürrle in the second half.
The benefits were there for all to see as the Germans asserted control over the match at the outset and never relinquished it. The retooled defense – led by the superb Hummels – found its missing solidity by dropping its line deeper and stopped France from breaking free on the counter or running in behind. The revamped midfield overwhelmed the French trio and stripped away any sort of threat from that department. One piece of quality play in the final third – a Toni Kroos free kick to the back post for Hummels to divert past Hugo Lloris – proved more than enough on the day.
Germany entered this game in desperate need of solid footing. Löw's alterations provided the necessary groundwork for a more cohesive performance across the board. The halting work in the final third requires some attention ahead the arduous semifinal assignment, but the Germans – for the first time in this World Cup – look like the Germans. It bodes well for this side's chances ahead of the trip to Belo Horizonte on Tuesday.
Lack of alternatives ushers France out of the tournament
France offered no answers once Hummels opened the scoring inside the first 15 minutes. Didier Deschamps' side relishes the chance to challenge teams on the break, but this game required a different method given the Germans' defiant core. The French simply weren't up to the task.
Most of the problems stemmed from the lack of space afforded by the resolute Germans. Antoine Griezmann and Mathieu Valbuena found little operating room behind the line and struggled to create much in the final third with Hummels essentially taking Karim Benzema out of the game. Their efforts received precious little support from Yohan Cabaye, Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba in midfield with the resolute core essentially dictating play and forcing everything through the wide areas.
France essentially found all of its routes to goal stifled and scrambled to devise viable secondary options. Deschamps spent far too much time pondering the issue and waited until the 73rd minute to make his first tactical change. Loïc Remy created one opportunity after he replaced Cabaye, but he did not really alter the course of the game. Olivier Giroud – not exactly the ideal solution given his form and the aerial prowess of the German defense – received just five minutes to make his mark after replacing Valbuena.
By that point, Deschamps probably knew his unbeaten run at the World Cup had reached its inevitable conclusion. France did well at this tournament and perhaps exceeded expectations, but it encountered a German side capable of limiting service to Benzema and restricting the opportunities to break quickly. This group – particularly without the magical Franck Ribery to provide the extra touch of class – simply didn't have the tools to overcome an impeccably organized opponent.
Argentina must rely on possession, width to overcome Belgium
Argentina benefited from the insertion of Ezequiel Lavezzi and the corresponding uptick in the wide areas during the round of 16 victory against Switzerland. The wide areas once again loom as a critical component ahead of the quarterfinal tie against Belgium (12:00p.m. ET). Argentina must rely on Lavezzi and Angel di Maria to retain possession neatly and spread the field horizontally to create gaps for Lionel Messi in the attacking third. The endeavor comes with a caveat, though: Argentina must recover quickly if it loses the ball in poor spots to avoid ceding too much ground to Belgium on the break.
Netherlands faces an altogether different test in its affair against Costa Rica (4:00p.m. ET). Louis van Gaal and his players must focus on patience and sharpness against a dogged opponent unwilling to allow them to counter. Wesley Sneijder must accept the burden of pushing the initiative in possession, while the Dutch on the whole must move the ball quickly and switch the point of attack often. Those measures – plus the willingness of Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie to drop off the line and then look to dash through it – offer the key as the Dutch attempt to limit the Ticos' work on the break and secure safe passage into the last four.