(Editorial) – The Brazil National Team played the Panamanian National Team in a Copa America Centenario tune up friendly this past Sunday night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Denver. Brazil won the match 2-0 off goals from Jonas and Gabriel. Kaka was only able to come in off the bench, but the match did give some insight into the Brazil offense going into Copa America.
Brazil Offense: Willian In Good Form, Issues Still Present
The result of this match does have to be taken with a grain of salt. Panama are certainly one of the less dynamic CONCACAF teams partaking in Copa America. Brazil are coming in as one of the big names but still have some issues to work out. Neymar will not partake in the tournament, electing to play in the Olympics in Rio instead. Kaka was added to the roster for Copa America last week unexpectedly.
Dunga used this match to experiment a bit and get his players’ fitness up. Willian, Philippe Coutinho, and Elías exchanged positions throughout the match. Panama essentially used this game as a dress rehearsal for their match against Argentina. Los Canaleros had only 36% possession in the match. The ‘bunker, counter attack, and hope for a draw’ strategy seemed to be in place and will probably be the plan for their June 10 match against Argentina.
From the opening whistle, Willian stood out in the Brazil attack. He started out at right midfield, but switched positions throughout the 64 minutes he played. The 27-year-old appeared full of energy despite playing at altitude. He combined well with Jonas and Coutinho, creating chances from both the middle of the park and out wide. Anytime Brazil got the ball moving with tempo (their trademark), it went through Willian at some point.
“I could could feel it in the second half. I felt a bit tired. But I thought it was a good game for us,” said Willian after the match about his fitness while playing at elevation.
The Chelsea man was subbed out in the second half to a standing ovation from the Brazil fans in attendance. The crowd was only louder for the two goals and Kaka’s entrance into the match.
Dunga and his staff had to be happy that Jonas scored his first international goal since 2011. It was good that Gabriel scored in his first ever cap with the senior national team as well. That said, Brazil is still missing something with Ricardo Oliveira‘s injury.
Much of the chance creation ended up at the feet of Jonas with the opportunity to shoot make the final pass. Yet, for all that possession and service, Jonas had only two shots, both within the first 15 minutes. Furthermore, both Brazil goals came off Panamanian defensive break downs.
On Jonas’s goal, no defender went after a cross sent in by Dani Alves. Then a center back slipped trying to cut off the angle for a pass, leaving Jonas wide open in front of goalkeeper Jaime Penedo. Too easy.
On the second goal, a poor first touch on a clearance of another Dani Alves cross and the ball fell straight to Gabriel. Gabriel did well to trap the ball and finish the play off, but again, the chance was a direct result of an egregious defensive error.
Neither goal was the result of great ball movement by Brazil or a great individual effort. Dunga needs to find a way to get more shot creation for Jonas and/or the players around him. Then there’s Hulk.
Hulk subbed during the second half and the Brazil attack immediately stalled. He and Jonas seemed to have some issues with spacing; they bumped into each other on several occasions. There were also some miscommunication on runs and service coming from midfield with Hulk. To the 29-year-old’s credit, he did have two really good chances off crosses into the box. Hulk is better in the air than the other forwards on this roster, which does give him value.
It’s still unclear whether Hulk could start or be only a bench player in this tournament. Real or imagined, some of demons from his ineffectiveness and clumsiness in the World Cup may still be lingering. He seems to be lacking chemistry with the other forwards on this squad and he’s not the answer to Brazil’s need for a finisher in front of goal.
Brazil’s primary weakness going into the World Cup was their over-reliance on Neymar to create their attack. Their failure to win the World Cup was partly due to a poor game plan. The other attacking players not showing up was as significant factor. Neymar did get injured in the quarter final and was not able to play in the massacre against Germany.
The five time World Cup champions may again need to rely heavily on a central play maker. Only this time, it won’t be a 22-year-old kid. It will be Kaka. It’s unclear whether or not Kaka will start the first match considering his age and how late he was added to the squad. Still, this national team has a big chip on its shoulder. Who better to rely on than a World Class veteran, an generational icon, and a guy who’s used to being the man for club and country?
As great as Neymar is, Barcelona is Lionel Messi‘s team. Going back to his time in Milan, Kaka has been the face of his club teams. He’s doing it right now for Orlando City SC in MLS, a club with lots of young players that have something to prove. Kind of like Brazil.
“Kaka is a great player. For us, he brings experience. He’s very technical. [His presence] is important for the whole team,” Coutinho said after the match through a translator.
Kaka isn’t just a leader. He’s a gatherer. His positive energy naturally fills the room and lifts every player up. Even if he’s not a starter or the primary focus of the attack in this tournament, the value of his presence cannot be underestimated. He fills a hole this team has had since the World Cup.
They’re still a work in progress. They still have forward issues to work out. But with Willian playing great, Coutinho’s right behind him, and the uplift of Kaka and his smile, the Brazil offense should be able to give any team in this tournament a run for their money.