Rio de Janeiro: In 2016 Peru eliminated Brazil from the centenary Copa America with a 1-0 win in the last Group B match, leaving Brazil in third place above Haiti but out of the tournament. It signaled the end of Carlos Dunga’s second spell at the helm of the Seleção. He had endured a torrid time, struggling in the World Cup qualifiers. Dunga followed the Gaucho blueprint of football, valuing defense, organization and the counterattack.
Belatedly, he acknowledged that Brazil needed to play more expansive football and his 4-1-4-1 formation was imbued with more progressive ideas. Tite, his successor, retained that system and all of a sudden Brazil and a young Gabriel Jesus were flying. They experienced little problems qualifying for the World Cup in Russia. Tite simply was a King Midas.
In the Copa America final, Brazil and Peru meet in a very different context. On the back of a 2-0 victory over South American rivals Argentina in the semi-finals in midweek, Brazil should be on a high. Except, they are not. Brazil conceded that there was an element of fortune to victory. At a white-hot, bouncing Mineirao, VAR could well have awarded a penalty to Argentina. Above all, Brazil didn’t sweep their opponents aside with the swashbuckling style of a 2016 3-0 victory.
That victory was Tite’s second game in charge and Renato Augusto had been Brazil’s glue in the midfield. On Wednesday, Brazil never dominated in the midfield. Tite argued that his central axis of Casemiro, Arthur, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino was essential to controlling the game and shutting down the extraterrestrial, a reference to Lionel Messi. In part, those four players did prevent Messi from roaming around free, but Brazil’s own possession was problematic. They constantly looked labored, overly cautious and with a good number of players in fixed positions.
It underwrote Tite’s year-long struggle to find the right balance after the World Cup. More tellingly, the tense victory also exposed him as a Gaucho coach, who is arguably not as conservative as his predecessors Luiz Felipe Scolari and Dunga, but still a product of his environment. Tite’s mantra is simple: you have to deserve victory, which sets him apart from his typical Gaucho counterparts and most Brazilian coaches. At the same time, Tite’s teams will never be cavalier. He will always struck a balance between defense and attack. It was no coincidence that in his news conference before the final Tite mentioned Mario Zagalo, the doyen of Brazilian football who shuttled down the left wing at the 1958 World Cup to provide the Seleção with balance. As a coach, Zagalo maintained that success recipe with a 4-3-3 formation to win the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
Last year, Brazil were thrown off balance by Romelu Lukaku, Belgium and the suspended Casemiro in the World Cup quarter-finals. The South Americans exited the tournament in shock. Ever since that fateful July day in Kazan, Tite’s quest for balance has intensified. He has been tinkering with his midfield and something of the old Tite, a defensive coach during his first spell with Brazilian giants Corinthians, has returned. Deep down, the pragmatic and defensive-minded coach is still there. Tite is a coach with principles, but he won’t commit to ideals, the way Jorge Sampoali, coaching Santos, and Marcelo Bielsa do. The reason is simple: idealism can’t topple balance.
As a result, Brazil failed to ignite at this Copa America. They haven’t conceded a single goal, a testimony to their defensive solidity, but the team hasn’t played attractive football either. Fluency and directness were Brazil’s hallmark before the World Cup, yet at home they have not rekindled that natural style. Brazil needed penalties against Paraguay in the last eight and a rickety Argentina went beyond expectations by pushing the hosts hard in Belo Horizonte.
Tite has felt the pressure and speculation is rife that he may exit on his own terms after the final, whatever the scoreline. The coach’s influence is waning within the CBF and recently the ex-Arsenal pair Sylvinho and Edu Gaspar, members of his back room staff, accepted roles in European club football.
It is almost the perfect storm, but there is one big caveat: in the first round the hosts enjoyed a standout 90 minutes against Peru, the opponents in Sunday’s final at the Maracana. Naively, the Peruvians attempted to go toe-to-toe with Brazil. They were brutally punished in a 5-0 rout. In the knockout stages, Peru showed far more maturity against both Uruguay and Chile. Their philosophy against Brazil should be simple: follow Paraguay’s example and defend deep. It could well push Brazil and Tite to the brink.
Updated Date: Jul 07, 2019 23:29:07 IST