“The one who defines the style of the team is not the coach. The characteristics of the players do.” A wise and concise truth put by Tostão in the Folha do Sao Paulo. Tostão used this remark to elaborate on an important observation he has made about the Selecão: in the post-Dunga era, Brazil’s principal trademark remains the counter-attack. With so many quick players Tostão believes the only marked difference is that Mano fields a more offensive team higher up the pitch which enables quicker ball recovery. On the other hand, Tostão adds, it leaves Brazil vulnerable to the counter-attack itself. Against Japan the Selecão often broke on the counter with pace provided by a flexible front four. The Japanese had bravely, but foolishly, opted to play a high line. It was a fine recipe for suicide and Zaccherino’s team conceded four goals. Japan simply did not have the quality to unsetlle Brazil. Clearly Tostão was not fooled by Brazil’s confortable victory. His striking observation – in sharp contrast with the actual philosophy Mano Menezes is trying to implement – came on the day Brazil took on Colombia in the ‘milesimo‘ in New Jersey.
Colombia (eighth in the FIFA rankings) served as a benchmark for Brazil and a chance for Mano Menezes to refute his critics. Menezes boldly stuck to his adventurous 4-2-4 formation with Neymar again in the role of a false nine. Leandro Castán replaced the injured Marcelo as an improvised left-back, while Thiago Neves got his chance with Hulk sidelined as well. For the second time Thiago Silva lined up to the left of the defensive centre-back pairing. The captain had been asked before the game to give his thoughts on the progress the Seleção had made so far. He gave Brazil 8 out of 10; Mano reluctantly agreed.
Brazil and Colombia got proceedings underway in a balanced matter with Neymar drifting left and right, embodying the fluid movement of Brazil’s front players – a feature of Brazil’s game throughout the first half. Cuadrado pushed forward on the right with a lot of stamina, Armero providing more of the same amunition on the left as Colombia made full use of the space vacated on the wings. After 17 minutes Kaka got Brazil’s first big chance of the game , flashing a shot just wide after being played in by Neymar, while the latter should have put Brazil ahead midway in the first half after a Dani Alves cross, but headed the leather straight at Ospina when completely unmarked six yards out. Kaka then nearly got the opening goal when Yepes’ poor clearance was intercepted by Oscar, who picked out the Madrid player. The No. 8 neatly chipped the ball over Ospina, only to see his effort cannon off the bar while, at the other end, supposed Manchester United target Rodriguez was often at the centre of the action, orchastrating the play and roaming the field.
Falcão found it difficult to free himself and when in a position to pull his deadly trigger, Paulinho rushed in with an outstanding tackle at the 38 minute mark. But against the run of play Colombia did score just before the interval: Rodriguez and Torres combining excellently in the midfield before Cuadrado took the ball in his stride in behind Castan to smash it home. A hammer blow for Brazil on the stroke of half-time, but Colombia played intelligently and made the most of Brazil’s narrow formation, with plenty of players posted in the centre of the field, leaving the wings free for Armero and Cuadrado to venture forward at will. Castan was exposed at left-back. Out of his depth, he was caught completely out of position when Cuadrado fatally struck. In dire need of help, Castan didn’t recieve enough assistance from his companions. Menezes’ other peculiar choice, Thiago Neves, was equally poor.
Another fine chance fell to Neymar straight after the break. Kaka, holding off two challengers, feeding the Santos star at the edge of the box, but Ospina saved Neymar’s low strike brilliantly. The game became scrappy on a slow and uneven pitch with Brazil finding it difficult to move the ball around. It was a signal for Mano Menezes to ressort to plan B, ordering his trusted number 9 Leandro Damiao to come off the bench. Then Neymar put a stop to Menezes’ new introduction – cutting in from the left, he danced his way into the box before putting his shot beyond Ostina inside the far post. Neymar’s sensational equaliser was another testimony to his great potential and his 16th goal for his country in just 26 appearances.
Colombia responded with Yepes fouling Neymar blatantly. Kaka intervened with his experience acting as peacemaker, reconcilling the combative Yepes and Neymar. Rodriguez was given another sniff of a goal for Colombia but he aimed his header straight at Diego Alves. Neymar, then, found himself the protagonist once more when combining with Dani Alves in the left channel of the box 10 minutes before the close. Alves was brought down by Armero and American referee Geiger pointed to the spot. Neymar subsequently skied it high over the bar. In a futile attempt to hide his disbelief and exasperation Neymar starred at the ground; Ospina cheekily consoling him. Meanwhile Castán’s horror night came to an end as Mano finally brought on Fabio Santos. Brazil went in search of a winner in the dying minutes but Colombia stood firm. It was a hard fought draw for Brazil, but also a solid performance from Menezes’s team: Brazil were dangerously exposed on the flanks, but corrected their mistake after the break by playing a wider formation. The intricate movement of Brazil’s front players didn’t hide the need for a true number 9 at times. Kaka was lively but lacked that same vigor in the second half. Castán and Thiago Neves were disapointments. Plenty to ponder than for Brazil’s head coach. So it is back to the drawing board for Mano Menezes before Brazil take on England in February next year.