Friday, June 26, 2009

ATH: Pregame US v Brazil

from US National Team Players Association

Scouting Report: Brazil

By Clemente Lisi -- Mention the name Brazil and you conjure up soccer greatness... a rich tradition that spans fours decades highlighted by five World Cups. Brazil’s already-packed trophy case, which also includes two Confederations Cups, could see the addition of another title this Sunday.

The Confederations Cup final pitting favorites Brazil and the Cinderella underdog USA in Johannesburg, South Africa has all the makings of a classic encounter.

The Brazilians are an eclectic mix of the traditional jogo bonito-style and gritty determination. Although he has been criticized by pundits and fans for “not playing pretty enough,” coach Dunga has not been deterred, letting results do the talking.

The Americans have momentum on their side and are riding high on confidence after stunning Spain 2-0 in the semifinals.

Brazil had limped through the early part of 2010 World Cup qualifying before recently hitting their stride this year. The Selecao have finally reached their full potential at the Confederations Cup, trouncing World champion Italy 3-0 last Sunday during the group stage.

Yet for every 3-0 scoreline the Brazilians have put together as of late, there have been numerous games where they could barely eek out a win. Recent examples of that include the 4-3 victory over Egypt in the first round of the Confederations Cup (thanks to a last-gasp penalty kick by Kaka) and a 1-0 win over hosts South Africa on Thursday in the semifinals (on a goal off a free kick with two minutes left by Daniel Alves).

The difference between this Brazil team and the ones from the past is the ability to grind out results. There's a simple enough reason: Brazil is loaded with quality players. The bulk of the roster plays for Europe’s top clubs, making them very difficult to surprise, much less beat. Then again, so was Spain and we all saw how that ended.

Dunga has utilized a variety of players and strategies since being appointed Brazil coach in 2006. Players like Kaka, Luis Fabiano and Robinho have made it so that there is no shortage of scorers. Whether playing a 4-4-2, a 4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2, the Brazilians use passing, speed and lethal counterattacks to instill fear in opposing defenses.

The Brazilians are also very solid defensively and this is why they have conceded few goals. At this tournament, Brazil has given up just three (all against Egypt) over four matches. Their net is in safe hands with Inter Milan goalkeeper Julio Cesar (who has recorded three straight shutouts). Defenders Maicon and Lucio work tirelessly to clear loose balls and try to get the offense rolling with splendid plays along the wings and on dead balls.

With the abundance of talent that Dunga has at his disposal, he can afford to mix and match his squad until he finds the ideal blend before next year’s World Cup. So much so, that he left the likes of Ronaldinho and Adriano at home in favor of younger players like midfielder Felipe Melo and forward Luis Fabiano. These last two are great with the ball and have been able to help the team create scoring chances against the run of play.

The US, of course, comes into the game after beating Spain, another team loaded with skilled players with plenty of experience playing in various European leagues. The Brazilians may not want to look at their 3-0 win last week over the Americans in the group stage as any indication of how the US can play. A lot has changed since then. If the Brazil-South Africa semifinal thought us one thing is that an attentive defense and packed midfield – the sort of style employed by the US – can frustrate the South Americans.

The Americans have improved dramatically over the past week, like a lower-seeded team that gets hot in the playoffs. On the other hand, the favorite Brazilians have hardly looked like World beaters, but remain a team to fear.

Never before has there appeared to be such a narrow gap in talent level between the National Team and Brazil. A win over No. 1-ranked Spain will do that to a team. The US needs to be the best team in the stadium against Brazil, not necessarily the best in the world, come Sunday. Should the Americans keep the score close early on and avoid any sloppy errors that marred their performance in their last game against Brazil, it will truly be anyone’s game.

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