Brazil began the Mano Menezes era in New Jersey last night with a performance of great assurance and élan as they consigned the United States to a 2-0 defeat at the Meadowlands Stadium with goals from Neymar and Alexandre Pato.
There may have been an element of tokenism about Menezes’ selections, but the Seleção’s wonderful display could not have contrasted any more with the stubbornness and negative pragmatism that was perceived to have characterised the team under Dunga.
Brazil adopted a 4-2-3-1 shape that was similar to, if a little more clear-cut than, the 4-2-3-1/lopsided 4-4-2 diamond that we saw during the World Cup.
However, the way in which the system was interpreted by the relatively young side was far more offensive, fluent and adventurous than the style we witnessed in South Africa.
Gone was the robust defending and counter-attacking football of June and July, that much-maligned approach being supplanted by a classy and patient possession game, the Brazilians probing for weaknesses in the American defences and, when they arose, efficiently exploiting them with some beautifully flowing moves.
Of course, this was “only” a friendly, a game stripped of any semblance of pressure, and many of the players were looking to impress their new manager with performances of flair and ingenuity, but you couldn’t help but be exhilarated by the fluidity of Brazil’s play.
Menezes introduced several of the players that Dunga had been criticised for omitting from his World Cup squad – Neymar, Paulo Ganso and Alexandre Pato all being included in the starting line-up – and was rewarded with some sparkling performances. Cutting in from the left flank, the 18 year-old Neymar showed incredible intuition in his ability to create space and continually linked up well with Ganso, his Santos team-mate, who looked more than comfortable in the playmaker role and was afforded plenty of time on the ball thanks to the hard work of Lucas and Ramires in their deeper central midfield berths.
Indeed, the whole of the front four looked remarkably well-balanced, Robinho providing lively runs down the right side and producing a relatively good standard of service for the lithe and alert Pato who spent the evening thoroughly outwitting Omar Gonzalez and Carlos Bocanegra. With Menezes only having been in his new job a matter of weeks it is hard to say just how much this was “his” style of play, but his players are clearly relishing the renewed freedoms his leadership is affording them.
Although they were not put under a great deal of pressure, Menezes’ defence also looked coherent and seemed to communicate well. Daniel Alves and Andre Santos were predictably excellent at full-back and Thiago Silva and David Luiz looked very comfortable for a centre-half pairing that had just eight caps between them. Clearly, with Lucio, Juan, Michel Bastos and Maicon all rested, this was not a first-choice back four, but Menezes will take heart from the competence shown by his “second string”.
It would be premature to say that the careers of Felipe Melo, Kaka, Elano and Luis Fabiano are over at international level, but this was certainly a fleeting glimpse of the bright future that could well await this new generation of Brazilian players. Menezes may not have been the CBF’s favoured choice for the job, but he’s certainly doing something right.