It would appear that Tite, Brazil’s national team coach, can do no wrong.
This month, the 55-year-old former Corinthians boss extended his already impressive record in charge of the Seleção to six wins in six matches, thanks to two crucial victories against Argentina (3-0) and Peru (2-0). Brazil’s aggregate score over Tite’s first half a dozen games stands at 17-1 – with the only goal conceded an own goal from Marquinhos against Colombia.
Just five months after jumping into the crucible of international management, Tite has been able to get his squad onside as well as having most of the national sports press swooning over him. Most importantly, he has also won over the Brazilian public.
Last week, Brazil faced Peru away from home in a match that kicked off at a quarter past midnight on Wednesday morning. Estimates of viewing figures showed that over 10% of the population of the state of São Paulo was tuned in to their television sets to watch the Seleção, as well as over 15% of Rio de Janeiro. Not bad for a school night.
Public interest in the Brazilian national team had plummeted after woeful performances on the pitch and sweeping investigations into corruption at the national football confederation, the CBF. The magnificent start to Tite’s reign as head coach has not made the Brazilian population forget about the crimes committed by the administrators of the national sport, but it has helped them separate the team from the FA.
This is not without precedent in Brazilian football, as before the 1970 World Cup there were doubts over how well-supported the national team would be seeing as the country and the CBF were being run by a brutal military dictatorship.
Tite’s previous results had been excellent, particularly his side’s debut away to Ecuador in Quito. In serious altitude and against capable opposition, Brazil managed to win by three goals to nil, signalling an immediate sea change from the work of Tite’s predecessor, Dunga.
However, one could argue that this recent qualifying double-header provided Brazil with their two toughest tests under Tite. Their first opponents were none other than historic rivals Argentina, who came into the match desperate for a result. As if the game needed an extra layer of narrative, it would be held at the Mineirão stadium in Belo Horizonte, where two years ago Brazil were beaten 7-1 by Germany in the World Cup. With the pitch still bearing the chalk outlines of David Luiz, Dante and Fernandinho, victims of that famous sporting massacre, the significance of returning to the Mineirão was certainly playing on Brazil’s minds.
Next they would travel to play Peru who, despite being one of the continent’s lower-ranked nations, were on an impressive run of form, having beaten Paraguay 5-1 just days before in what was a rare away win.
Both games caused Brazil problems. Argentina started well in Belo Horizonte, with Lionel Messi getting the better of defensive midfielder Fernandinho in the early stages, as he had done when Barcelona faced Manchester City in this year’s Champions League. When Fernandinho was shown a yellow card after only six minutes, Brazil were forced to sit deeper and abandon their plans to press their opponents high up the field.
Against Peru, Tite’s men appeared to be taken aback by the incredible energy and disposition of their hosts, who harangued Brazil’s defence throughout the first half and made it difficult for them to build from the back or simply get out of their own half.
However, in both games Brazil were able to adapt to the match situation and take control of proceedings.
In the Mineirão, Tite decided to move central midfielder Paulinho to the left side to support Fernandinho in his herculean task of marking Messi. In an effort to stop Barcelona’s number 10 from seeing as much of the ball, centre-forward Gabriel Jesus was also moved to the left to block Messi’s supply lines.
With Argentina’s principal threat subdued on the left, Brazil began to stretch their opponents on the right flank. Central midfielder Renato Augusto drifted wide to the touchline, allowing right-sided attacker Philippe Coutinho to cut inside and attack the centre. With support arriving from right-back Daniel Alves, Brazil caused Argentina all sorts of problems in that sector, leading to Coutinho’s marvellous opening goal.
The shift took longer against Peru, thanks to the excellent performance from the home side. Brazil remained secure and focused on crowding out Peruvian’s inventive winger Cristian Cueva, who plays his club football in Brazil with São Paulo. Once Peru could no longer maintain their incessant pressing, space opened up for Brazil to create chances.
Neymar did not have the best of games in Lima, noticeably missing the attacking support from suspended left-back Marcelo and being constantly hounded by Peru’s defence. However, Brazil still played well and won without their star man, something which previously they have not been able to do. With Neymar off the boil, Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus took charge.
Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho, arguably the most in-form attacker in world football, is now an unquestionable starter in Tite’s Brazil team. His goal against Argentina will be remembered for years to come and against Peru, the aforementioned intelligent combinations with Daniel Alves and Renato Augusto gave Brazil a route to goal on the right side, with Neymar quiet on the left.
The other revelation in Tite’s Brazil squad is the 19-year-old Gabriel Jesus, who was brought into the senior side after winning Olympic gold and has not stopped scoring since. He has started all six of Tite’s matches in charge of the Seleção, scoring five goals. Due to his tender age, many aspects of his game are still visibly raw, yet for his country and his club Palmeiras he has shown flashes of true centre-forward brilliance. His marvellous assist against Argentina showed off his impressive balance and vision, while his composed finish against Peru was that of a natural goalscorer. He will almost certainly join Manchester City in January having won the Brazilian championship with Palmeiras, and the sky’s the limit for this immensely gifted young footballer.
While Brazil’s individual talent has shone through in recent months, it is the collective play of Tite’s side that has been the most impressive. In Belo Horizonte, many pointed to a poor performance from Argentina as an explanation for the 3-0 result, but the fact Brazil simply did not let the visitors play was overlooked. After going behind, Argentina simply did not get a sniff, with Messi constantly double-marked and Brazil excelling on defensive transitions.
Though any analysis of Brazil’s chances at the 2018 World Cup are inherently premature (Tite’s Seleção has yet to be tested against European opposition, for example), it is this disciplined defensive organisation that wins international tournaments. We can be sure that Brazil will arrive in Russia among the favourites for the trophy.