Over the last two evenings the men’s and women’s Olympic football teams have appeared to undertake a role reversal. First it was the turn of the women who played out a tedious 0-0 draw with South Africa, copying the example set by the men last week. Second it was the turn of the men, beating a Scandinavian nation by a margin of four goals, exactly what the women’s team did on Saturday night.
The game for the Seleção feminina on Tuesday evening saw seven changes to the team that thumped Sweden 5-1 over the weekend. The slew of new players appeared to completely disrupt the rhythm that had been created over the first two games and lead to the team having great difficulty creating high-quality goal scoring chances. Debinha in particular looked as if she was trying so hard to impress, and win the injured Christiane’s place in the starting eleven, that she forgot how to do the basics.
Balls were slipping under Brazilian feet and easy passes going astray, the defence also looked vulnerable for the first time in the tournament without the experience of Formiga to protect it from the counter attack.
In the first quarter of an hour both keepers were forced to dash from their lines and dive at the feet of onrushing opponents but these were rare forays into the respective penalty areas. Apart from this the closest Brazil came to scoring in the first half were two long-shots, one from Tamires which was well saved and another from Debinha which hit the post.
Even after the entry of Marta mid-way through the second period Brazil failed to find penetrating balls to open up the South African back-line. There were two more good pieces of goalkeeping, one at each end, the first by Brazil’s second choice Aline, who saved a shot from Kgatlana that was destined for the top-corner, and the second from Barker, who reacted well to save a close-range volleyed effort from Fabiana.
With Brazil already qualified for the next stage there was a look of a team that was saving energy for the upcoming, and far more testing, knockout encounters. Brazil will face a dangerous Australia team on Friday in the quarter finals and will need to be back at their explosive best if they are too overcome the Socceroos.
The men’s team on the other hand looked a completely different prospect from the team that played out two horrendous 0-0 draws in their first two group games. There were changes of personnel and tactics from Rogério Micale, a bold move at this stage but one that certainly paid dividends.
Walace of Grêmio came in for the suspended Thiago Maia and Luan was given a staring place at the expense of Felipe Anderson. This signalled a switch from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1, a formation that most of these players are more used to at club level. Gabriel Jesus went out to the left, with Luan just behind Neymar up front and Gabriel Barbosa continuing on the right. This change gave a link between midfield and attack that was missing from the first two games and Luan’s performance in this role will surely be enough to maintain his place in the first eleven.
The Grêmio forward looked menacing from the off, moving into spaces where it was difficult to track him and creating room for the two Gabriels and Neymar to exploit. In the first fifteen minutes there were two chances for centre-back Rodrigo Caio from successive set pieces and one for Gabreil Jesus who tried to shoot with his right when he would have been better advised to use his left. Brazil were looking dangerous though and continued to threaten down both sides of the pitch.
The first two goals came from very similar situations and it was no coincidence. The first was a low cross from Dougals Santos on the left which was finished off by Barbosa at the back post, the second came when Barbosa played in Luan down the right and he swung in a cross for Gabriel Jesus to smash the ball in, again at the back stick after running in from the left. The plan was clearly for the player on the opposing wing to join Neymar in the middle when the ball went out wide and it worked to perfection in the first forty-five. The relief from Micale and Jesus was written across their faces as the ball hit the back of the net for the second time.
The third came just after half-time, Luan tapping in from close range with the assist again coming from Douglas Santos who latched onto a delightful lobbed through ball from Neymar and cut back well. This goal was the nail in the coffin for Denmark and the pace of the game slowed significantly afterwards.
The icing on the cake came ten minutes from time with Gabriel Barbosa driving home a deflected Gabriel Jesus cross after another magnificent through ball from their captain. The performance was some sort of redemption after the horrible outings in the first two games and the boos and whistles they suffered in Brasília, Renato Augusto recovered especially well, playing solid game in the centre of the park after bearing the brunt of the abuse against Iraq.
If Brazil continue like this they will have a chance at that much desired gold medal, the only award missing from their glittering trophy cabinet. The win has put them into the more comfortable side of the draw and some will now be feeling quietly confident. They will come up against a good Colombia side lead by Teófilo Gutierrez on Saturday evening but if they pass that test either Honduras or South Korea await in the semis.
The path is open for both the women’s and men’s team to fulfil the dreams of a nation and take two gold medals in front of their home crowd in the país do futebol’s first Olympic games.