Brazil scored three goals in each half for a comprehensive victory.
Normally, Luis Felipe Scolari’s side is very predictable – he used the same eleven in four of the five games at the Confederations Cup in a standard 4-2-3-1. However, he was forced to change his entire right flank here, with Maicon replacing the injured Dani Alves, Ramires playing in midfield of a 4-3-3 formation, and Bernard higher up on the wing. Jo, meanwhile, replaced the absent Fred, who scored in last meeting between these two sides back at the 2006 World Cup.
Holger Osieck, like Scolari, is a fan of a settled side, so it was not surprising that he kept with a very familiar team and formation. However, with Luke Wilkshire and Tim Cahill out injured, Ryan McGowan and Josh Kennedy started at right-back and centre-forward respectively.
There were basically two elements at play here: Brazil being good, and Australia being bad.
Brazil change strategy
Brazil’s usual system – the 4-2-3-1 – features Neymar and Hulk on the flanks moving inside into more central positions, with the full-backs moving aggressively up the pitch to provide both width and support. This attacking intent from wide areas is compensated for by the selflessness of the central players – the deep-lying midfielders keep very disciplined positions in front of the back four, while the central playmaker, Oscar, is strong defensively and drifts towards the flanks so that Brazil aren’t exposed at counter-attacks. Upfront, Fred is a useful target for long balls and holds the ball up intelligently.
However, here, Brazil were forced into a number of changes, but adapted excellently, helped by the fact a lot of the roles were very similar, despite the switch to a 4-3-3.
Neymar and Bernard
The wide players, Bernard and Neymar, always looked to collect passes in the channel between Australia’s full-back and centre-back, before turning and dribbling directly at goal. Matt McKay and McGowan did not know whether to stay tight, or stand off. The problem was excaberated on the left hand side when Sasa Ognenovski didn’t move across to cover in the channel behind McKay when the latter was sucked out wide. Ognenovski was clearly uncomfortable moving away from the penalty box because of his lack of pace and mobility, but it meant there were acres of space in that zone between left-back and centre-back that Brazil thrived in. As a result, Neymar and Bernard dictated the game with their creativity.
Both were particularly good at picking out teammates with either low or lofted crosses – most evidently for the opening two goals – and what was particularly impressive was that when one winger had the ball, the other moved towards the back post as an additional striking threat. It was in this position where Bernard hit the post in the build-up to the opening goal, and also the position Neymar was in when Jo tapped home the second.
The Socceroos’ problems in wide areas was exacerbated by the attacking intent of Maicon and Marcelo, who both pushed extremely high up the pitch and forced Australia’s wingers into deep positions. Robbie Kruse and Tommy Oar are responsible enough to track back and defend, but they were simply overwhelmed by Brazil’s power going forward, and forced into incredibly deep positions – at one point, Oar, the left-winger was deeper than McKay, the left-back.
Meanwhile, Brazil enjoyed the majority of possession – due in part to their superiority, and due in part to Australia’s passivity off the ball. Luis Gustavo was instrumental in this, dropping deep between the two Brazilian centre-backs, helping to retain possession and allowing the full-backs to motor high up the pitch. With Brazil’s back four morphing into a back three when the home side was in possession, Australia’s front two seemed unsure of their defensive responsibilities – were they meant to press, or drop back and make the side compact?
Brett Holman in particular seemed flustered. He’d presumably been told to watch Gustavo, but wasn’t sure whether to follow him into deep positions, or drop back towards midfield, and as a result, Gustavo enjoyed great freedom, although his cracking goal – Brazil’s 6th – was atypical of his role.
Ahead of him in the midfield triangle, Ramires and Paulinho were given more freedom to get forward, and their runs from deep unsettled Australia’s back four, with neither Mark Bresciano nor Mile Jedinak truly picking them up when they entered the penalty box. It suited the two Brazilians perfectly, as both are excellent at timing late penalty-box runs for their respective club sides.
Australia wasteful in possession
By contrast, Australia’s midfield had barely time on the ball and it’s difficult to remember a period in which they entered Brazil’s half – summing up the home side’s dominance.
A major problem for the Socceroos was the transition from defence to attack, which was, put simply, terrible. A significant factor was the tempo of Brazil’s pressing, which was very quick and intense from the moment they lost the ball – but there was too many times when Australia’s first pass upon winning the ball was poor, even when under no pressure. They were either underhit, played behind the receiver, or straight back to a Brazilian shirt, and simply invited Brazil to attack once more. With the Brazilian full-backs pushing high up the pitch, and both of Australia’s wingers being quick, clever dribblers, it made sense to try and break into the vacated space – but the crucial, first, forward pass was never there.
Australia’s wastefulness in possession was exemplified with the second goal, when Australia were breaking forward but turned the ball over thanks to a sloppy pass from Holman under no pressure – the move then turned into a rapid Brazil counter-attack. It was a neat contrast: Brazil’s transitions were very smooth and effective compared to Australia’s disjointedness, with the third goal another case in point – Marcelo wins the ball, plays it into Ramires, who immediately opens up his body to face Australia’s goal and promptly plays Neymar in behind.
Furthermore, there was a lack of compactness all across the pitch from Australia. It was evident they were going to defend deep, a perfectly viable strategy against a team that is significantly better, but the issue was with the execution. Australia’s two banks of four were too spread out across the pitch, trying to cover too much space, and they probably would have been better off playing narrower, sacrificing the wide areas and inviting crosses, rather than being sucked across towards the flanks.
It’s a sobering defeat for the Socceroos, but hardly unexpected. They defended deep but were not compact enough to nullify Brazil, and failed to transition into counter-attacks effectively – contrasting with the opposition, who mixed long spells of possession with rapid passing moves, playing very positively when the ball was turned over.
“That’s how we conceded the first three goals in the first half,” said Osieck, in a fair summary post-match. “We were in the attacking third and some inaccurate balls lead to a loss of possession. They made a quick transition, a good counter attack and scored from there.”