Brazil beat Team GB 2-0 in an Olympic warm-up match at the Riverside stadium on Friday. In a dominant performance from Brazil, a header from Sandro and a penalty from Neymar sealed the victory. The scoreline was a little flattering to Team GB as they did not test Brazilian keeper Cabral at all in the game while Brazil would be a little disappointed with not having added to their 2-0 lead despite creating the vast majority of the chances in the game.
Leandro Damiao – Target Man
What was somewhat surprising in the game was how Brazil bullied Team GB physically. The Brits did not have a side with too much height and the Internacional target man, Leandro Damiao, was one player who took full advantage of this fact.
The first big chance of the game came as a result of a Cabral goal kick which was aimed towards Damiao. As you can see from the above picture, Damiao drags centre back Micah Richards towards him which creates a little pocket of space for Neymar to run into. Damiao flicks the ball into the space created for Neymar who then uses his pace to get through on goal but failed to finish as his shot went over.
This is a perfect example of how to use a target man. It starts with another Cabral goal kick. Damiao once again drags Richards out of position and once again wins the aerial duel, flicking it into the space vacated by Richards. Both the wide forwards, Hulk and Neymar, make runs into that space looking to meet the flick on. This time around, the defence are able to cover the space prevent one of them from meeting the ball.
Target men are hardly a new revelation to British football but not many teams properly execute the long-ball plan. There is a fine line between being a threat and wasting possession. As much as the height and power of Damiao is important in the above two cases, the role played by those making the runs in behind is absolutely essential. As you can see, the runs in behind begin even before the flick-on is made showcasing the excellent anticipation of the likes of Neymar and Hulk not to mention the pace required to evade the covering defenders.
In this instance, Damiao has moved to receive the ball on the left flank and has dragged the other centre back, Tomkins, with him. Damiao then backheels the ball to Hulk, showing that he has the technical skill to go with his physical attributes. Hulk receives the ball and uses his pace to evade Richards who then fouls him inside the box which led to the penalty that Neymar promptly dispatched into the bottom corner.
Part of the reason why the Team GB defence were dragged out of shape by Damiao was because of the team’s lack of height in midfield. The diminutive Joe Allen was the player sitting in the midfield and there is simply no chance of him competing physically against Damiao. Because of this, the centre backs are compelled to follow Damiao thereby leaving space in behind. If there was a physically strong defensive midfielder in the side, the defensive shape of the backline could have been maintained much better, especially in the first two cases highlighted above.
Damiao was excellent in leading the line. There are two ways in which a target man can cause a defence problems – he can provide flick-ons to others making runs in behind or he can make himself a nuisance in the box for crosses. In this game, Damiao was impressive with how he brought others into play which was logical given that neither wide player was likely to get down the line and put crosses in.
The superstar of this Brazil team is without doubt the Santos forward, Neymar. The 20-year-old is the type of player that can bring crowds to stadium. He is regarded as Brazil’s answer to Messi in his homeland while in England, people seem to draw more attention to his gamesmanship. Whatever your opinion may be with regards to Neymar, there can be no doubt that he is an excellent footballer.
Neymar played a free role in this game. He roamed from flank to flank and made himself difficult to track. His movement was impressive in that he always managed to find himself in little pockets of space.
As you can see in this image, Neymar has roamed to the right flank and has all the time in the world to decide his next move.
Flash forward a few passes in the move and you can now see that Neymar has moved into a more central position and is still in quite a bit of space.
This is another move and you can see here that Neymar has once again positioned himself in a pocket of space, this time closer to the left flank.
While Damiao added a sense of directness and physicality to the Brazilian attack, Neymar added fluidity and flair. He was very involved in the game. He is a complete footballer which is remarkable considering his age. He can dribble at full backs or roam inside, behaving more like an attacking midfielder. He has wonderful ball control and can pick out a pass. His goal-scoring record with Santos is extremely impressive – 110 goals in 186 games. He has also scored an impressive 9 goals in 18 appearances for the national team. His application when the team is not in possession is also decent. OK, it’s not exactly Ji-Sung Park but it is better than what you might expect given his prima donna reputation.
Both Damiao and Neymar are highly likely to move to Europe at some point in their careers and both look to be quite capable of succeeding in a tougher league. Damiao has been linked with Spurs and his style of play would definitely suit the Premier League more than most Brazilians. Neymar might need more time to adjust to Europe but given his ability, one would imagine that he would come good at some point.
As far as Brazil’s hopes for an Olympic gold go, one would have to consider them to be amongst the favourites. They are taking the competition very seriously and the strength of their squad is incredible. The contrast between the intentions of both Team GB and Brazil can be seen in their squad selection. One of Brazil’s 3 over-23 players include PSG’s new 32 million pound signing, Thiago Silva while debate in Britain about the Olympic squad revolves around the decision to omit 37-year-old MLS player, David Beckham.