Fans of the Brazilian national team could not have asked for anything more from the debut of new coach Tite. Six points out of a possible six, including their first win away to Ecuador in 33 years and a pleasing home victory over Colombia. Both matches contained plenty of good individual performances from the players on the pitch, but the coach deserves a healthy share of the credit. Brazil is meeting the new boss, who happens to differ significantly from the old boss.
One of Tite’s impressive qualities is the speed in which he manages to get teams and individual players to obey his instructions and play in his image. After only 180 minutes of football, Brazil are already a far more compact side who play an effective high press and build attacks through quick passing triangles – all hallmarks of Tite’s successful Corinthians teams.
It took a ropy first half against Ecuador for things to fall into place. Clever central midfielder Christian Noboa ran the show in the early stages in the Quito altitude, not closed down quick enough by Brazil’s midfield and allowed to feed the ball to left winger Jefferson Montero, who terrorised Daniel Alves in the opening 45 minutes.
Brazil improved as the game went on, correcting their flaws in positioning and effectively annulling Ecuador’s threat. Noboa barely saw the ball and, as a result, neither did the home side’s dangerous wingers.
Palmeiras’ 19 year old centre-forward Gabriel Jesus then proceeded to steal the show, using his pace to sneak ahead of Arturo Mina and win the deadlock-breaking penalty kick, before scoring two goals of his own that displayed much of his impressive raw talent.
For 2-0, the future Manchester City man darted in front of his defender and met a low cross with an audacious back-heel, a great example of his intelligent positioning and invention. He added Brazil’s third when the game was already decided, receiving the ball with his back to goal outside of the penalty area and, without looking up, curling it into the far corner of the net. The technique required to finish with such finesse while turning, as well as the instinct to know where the goal is at all times, these qualities do more than justify Pep Guardiola’s obsession with bringing young Gabriel to Manchester.
3-0 may have flattered them somewhat, though Brazil went into the game with a clear strategy and executed it well. It’s hard to remember the last time we’ve heard that sentence.
Colombia was always going to be a different challenge. At home, Brazil could not focus on neutralising opposing threats and instead were forced to take control of the game themselves, a task made easier by Miranda’s second-minute header to make it 1-0.
Brazil dominated. Renato Augusto strolled through the match as the side’s main playmaker, bringing the ball from defence to attack from his left-sided central midfield position. Crucially, he was always offered multiple passing options thanks to plenty of intelligent movement ahead of him (something that could not be said of Brazil during the Dunga Era). The only problem was their difficulty playing through Colombia’s defence, which is to be expected after only a handful of training sessions together.
Colombia equalised through a set piece on 36 minutes, with Paris Saint-Germain’s Marquinhos turning the ball past his own goalkeeper after a propping James Rodríguez cross. The scoreline was an inaccurate representation of the half and Brazilian heads did seem to go down briefly, with Neymar getting himself involved in some needless off-the-ball squabbles.
However, perhaps the most promising feature of Tuesday night’s match was the way in which Brazil regained their focus in the second half. Under Dunga, too often were the Seleção trapped inside their own heads, causing them to fall apart easily. Against Colombia, they managed to get back on track fairly quickly.
Midway through the second half, just as Brazil began to tire and look sloppy in their final pass, Tite made a pair of clever substitutions that directly contributed towards Brazil scoring the winning goal. First, Willian was brought off for Phillipe Coutinho, a midfielder with a fresh pair of legs and eyes to look for that decisive pass. Soon afterwards, Zenit’s Giuliano came on for Paulinho.
Paulinho had a decent game, he marked Colombia’s midfield well and got into the right positions during Brazil’s attacks – making late runs into the penalty area, just as he used to under Tite at Corinthians – but every time he received the ball in the final third his brain didn’t seem sharp enough to do anything productive with it. Giuliano gave the midfield a bit more zip and alertness in possession. With Paulinho suspended for the next qualifier, it will be interesting to see who gets that place.
Within minutes of coming on, Giuliano and Coutinho combined to find Neymar’s intelligent run into the penalty area. The number 10 finished superbly, scoring his 48th goal for the national team.
Having taken over with Brazil outside of the World Cup qualification places for the first time in their history, Tite has already managed to propel them to 2nd place. With two eminently winnable matches in the next international break (home to Bolivia and away to Venezuela), Tite could easily have Brazil in pole position by the time they play Argentina in November. What a difference a proper coach makes.