On Tuesday morning a much-changed Brazil side beat an equally altered Australia by four goals to nil at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, in a game that was a lot less comfortable for the Seleção than a quick look at the scoreline would suggest.
After the game against Argentina at the same venue on Friday, this fixture provided another opportunity for Tite to have a look at some squad players and others still who had been called up for the first time under his stewardship.
Luiz Felipe Scolari had his starting 11 set in stone a full year before the 2014 World Cup, which eventually worked against the Seleção. Tite wants to avoid the same complacency and is using these games to give chances to those pushing for a place.
In the Argentina game the manager had used four first-choice players. This time, of the usual starters, only Paulinho and Philippe Coutinho took to the field. Coutinho, incidentally celebrating his 25th birthday, was handed the captains armband for the first time.
A lot of those who began the game here, particularly in defensive positions, were reserves of reserves, players who the manager will be looking at to provide competition for places in the 23 man group that travels to Russia next year rather than in the starting 11.
David Luiz, the most commented upon of the new selections, started in the most defensive of the three central midfield positions. In goal Valencia’s Diego Alves got a chance to make his case for a place in the side and was joined by Rafinha, Thiago Silva, Rodrigo Caio and Alex Sandro across the back line.
Coutinho was moved into a central midfield position, an interesting creative option for Tite, with Giuliano and Douglas Costa on the wings and Sport Recife’s Diego Souza as the lone striker.
I reported that the Argentina game got off to a quick start. If that was the case, then this one began at the speed of light; Brazil had the ball in the net after just 11 seconds.
From the kick-off, the ball went straight back to Bailey Wright, playing on the left of Autralia’s back three, who saw fit to deliver it straight to the rapidly encroaching Giuliano. The Zenit attacker played in Diego Souza who shot low and hard across Langerak in the Australian goal.
At that point one might have expected a Brazilian onslaught but the game quickly found a more cadenced rhythm and the Seleção were happy to keep possession of the ball in their own half, which invited pressure from the Australians. In the opening stages Tite’s side struggled to move the ball even beyond the half-way line and Pelé, on commentary duty, opined that they would be better having possession a little further forward.
After the 20 minute mark Brazil heeded Pelé’s call and with that Coutinho started to come into the game. At one point he left three Australian midfielders in his wake with a beautiful turn in the centre circle. The Liverpool man was Brazil’s standout player here, showing why he has become such a fundamental part of the national team.
Australia, however, were well organised, with a line of five defenders in front of their penalty area and Brazil struggled to break them down. The only other clear chance before the break came after half an hour from an attack initiated by Coutinho. He played in Alex Sandro down the left whose cross was diverted into the path of Paulinho by Diego Souza. However, the Guangzhou Evergrande man could only direct the ball wide of the target.
Wide men Giuliano and Douglas Costa were particularly ineffective in the first half and despite Australia carrying next to no threat Tite will have been disappointed with the lank of penetration from his side. The only bright points were Coutinho, as previously mentioned, and David Luiz, who did a fine job of screening the back four and can provide real thrust with his runs from deep.
After the interval Coutinho went out wide with Giuliano moving into the middle, which improved things marginally, but Brazil did not really take control until Aussie head coach Ange Postecoglou made three changes 10 minutes in. From there it was one-way traffic as the Socceroos looked horribly disrupted.
After an hour Brazil extended their lead. Paulinho won a corner which was whipped in venomously by Coutinho and met by David Luiz, whose thunderous header rattled the bar. The rebound fell to Rodrigo Caio who headed back across, providing the opportunity that Thiago Silva needed to rise above everyone else and muscle the ball home.
In the subsequent minutes the opening hour’s only two real positive points, Coutinho and David Luiz, both left the field to be replaced by Willian and Fernandinho. Douglas Costa, who appeared to be carrying a knock, also made way for Shakthar Donetsk’s Taison.
Willian’s entry proved sufficient to counterbalance the loss of Coutinho and with his first intervention he almost set up a third.
15 minutes later Brazil did manage to put the result beyond doubt. A fantastic exchange between Willian and Paulinho left the goal at the mercy of Taison who made no mistake, tucking it into the bottom corner. He immediately burst into tears, showing that there is no possible situation that could turn scoring one’s first goal for Brazil into a meaningless act.
A further flurry of substitutions followed for both sides which appeared to further unbalance the Australians. Brazil continued to push for a goal with Willian the brightest spark. Both he and Alex Sandro had chances to put in dangerous crosses but both were cut out by Australian defenders at the front post.
In the final act of the half Brazil put an undeserved sheen on the scoreline. Willian broke away with Taison and should have scored but smacked his shot against a retreating Australian defender. From the resulting corner, taken by the Chelsea player, Diego Souza nodded home for his second of the evening, finishing the game exactly as he had started it, putting the ball into the back of the net.
Tite will not have seen too much here to impress him here. His side looked lethargic, which is perhaps to be expected after a long, taxing season, and failed to penetrate the Australian defence until it was disrupted with replacements.
Those players who were rested from the Brazil squad can now spend the rest of the European summer sitting comfortably on the beach, safe in the knowledge that they will most likely keep their places.