Brazil 3 Ivory Coast 1
Brazil: Cesar; Maicon, Lucio, Juan, Bastos; Silva, Melo; Elano (Alves 67), Kaka, Robinho (Ramires 90); Fabiano
Ivory Coast: Barry; Demel, K Toure, Zokora, Tiene; Y Toure, Tiote, Eboue (Romaric 72); Dindane (Gervinho 54), Drogba, Kalou (Keita 68)
Brazil produced a confident performance in Johannesburg tonight to defeat the Ivory Coast 3-1 with a composure and comfort in possession as well as a strength at the back that has seen Dunga’s team establish themselves as the favourites to be crowned World Champions on 11th July.
Systems as expected
Dunga kept faith with the same eleven that showed such patience in overcoming a resolute North Korea on Tuesday night, again arranged in their now distinctive lopsided 4-2-3-1 and combining the qualities of pragmatism and attacking endeavour as they have done so effectively in recent months.
Eriksson, on the other hand, made one change to the team that played out a 0-0 draw with Portugal in Port Elizabeth, accommodating Didier Drogba in his nominal 4-3-3 from the start at the expense of Gervinho rather than dropping Aruna Dindane, the alteration that had been widely anticipated.
The early stages of the game saw the general pattern established as the Ivory Coast dropped deep, getting men behind the ball and attempting to stifle the creativity of Robinho and Kaka. Eriksson’s side proved very at carrying out their game for the first 20 minutes of the match, their illustrious opponents getting very few sights of goal despite their dominance of the ball and comfort in possession.
However, Brazil’s patience and excellent passing in the face of The Elephants’ five-man midfield in the defensive phase was eventually rewarded in the 25th minute when a wonderfully flowing ten-pass move resulted in Luis Fabiano firing the ball beyond Boubacar Barry.
It was a goal that demonstrated all that is good about this Brazilian team in possession, a willingness to wait for the opening before seeing the opportunity and transferring the ball quickly through the midfield.
At its heart was the classic combination play between the attacking trident of Robinho, Kaka and Fabiano, the three players exchanging passes extremely close to each other before putting the centre-forward through on goal.
Lopsided and under-protected
Brazil’s attacking play was aided somewhat by an Ivorian formation that undoubtedly had a left-sided bias. The “Actual Formation” stats from the game clearly show Yaya Toure and Ismael Tiote, the two holding players, as both having adopted positions more towards the left side of the field than would be expected, likely a ploy to keep the dangerous combination of Maicon and Elano quiet, but a tactic that saw right-back Guy Demel exposed and allowed Michel Bastos, Kaka and Robinho to keep hold of the ball on the Brazilian left flank under relatively little pressure.
As a result Brazil started many of their attacks down the left, attacking the space in front of Demel with Kaka shifting wider to support Bastos and Robinho before the ball was moved quickly and efficiently to the right side of the penalty area from where two of their three goals were created.
This pattern was no better highlighted than during the move which led to Brazil’s third goal, Bastos setting Kaka away into the space left open by the Ivorians’ formation and the out-of-position Demel, the Real Madrid playmaker getting to the touchline before passing across the face of goal to find Elano who had ghosted in from the right to finish with aplomb.
It was not just in possession that Dunga’s side impressed, they also look particularly robust and intelligent in dealing with their opponents on the rare occasions when the Ivorians emerged from their defensive shell to get forward and test the Brazilian back line.
With Drogba a peripheral figure for much of the game as a direct result of some excellent marking by Lucio and Juan, the Ivory Coast wide players, Aruna Dindane and Salomon Kalou, were forced to do much of the work going forward. But the wingers were unable to beat Maicon and Bastos for pace around the outside and so were forced to try and fashion opportunities by cutting inside and attempting to run into the space between the full-back and the centre-half.
Their efforts often resulted in a crowding of the top of the Brazilian penalty area and hinted at a lack of communication between the Ivorian forwards, moves either being snuffed out in the middle with Melo and Silva screening the back four or out wide by the tireless full-back partnership. This wasn’t a terrible Ivorian performance by any means, but the defensive organisation of the Brazilians made the West Africans look extremely blunt in the advanced areas of the field.
The introduction of Gervinho, a player with far more natural pace than Kalou or Dindane, did make some difference towards the end of the game as he stretched the Selecao when he got the opportunity to run directly at the Brazilian defence. Indeed, the Lille forward was central to the Ivory Coast’s consolation goal, running the best part of 80 yards with the ball before cutting it back to Yaya Toure who crossed for Drogba, free of Lucio for virtually the first time in the entire game, to head into the Brazilian net.
Group G taking shape
Although losing Elano to injury and Kaka to suspension ahead of their final group game put a slight dampener on the evening from a Brazilian perspective, there can be no denying that Dunga’s compact team are looking ominously strong and, on tonight’s evidence, more than capable of going all the way in South Africa.
Brazil’s win makes them the second team alongside the Netherlands to have confirmed their progression through to the last 16, while Eriksson and his players will have to defeat North Korea in their final group game and, if Portugal beat the North Koreans tomorrow as expected, hope that Brazil beat the Portuguese by enough goals on Friday to swing the potentially crucial goal difference in their favour.