Brazil and Colombia remember Chapecoense as Dudu settles friendly
The prime purpose of Wednesday night's game between Brazil and Colombia was, of course, to raise funds for the victims of the Chapecoense air disaster. The secondary aim was to further strengthen ties of friendship between the two countries involved. Drawing serious conclusions from the 90 minutes played in Rio de Janeiro comes a long way third.
Quite apart from the other, thoroughly noble objectives, it is increasingly hard to make solid assessments based on international friendlies, which tend to degenerate into a second half parade of substitutions. And conclusions are all the more precarious when the match is not only a friendly, but also takes place before the club season has got underway.
Nevertheless, opportunities to have a look at fringe players are rare for international coaches -- and those players will be looking to press their claims in the limited time available. So, with all the caveats mentioned above, did we learn anything substantial from Brazil's 1-0 win? Will the match have the slightest bearing on the build up towards next year's World Cup? With only South American-based players available, both teams bore little relation to the lineups sent out by coaches Tite (Brazil) and Jose Pekerman (Colombia) have been sending out in the Russia 2018 qualifiers.
More of the Colombian team have seen action in the qualification competition, reflecting the fact Pekerman has been chopping and changing more, using more players as he seeks to find the right blend. Since Tite took over in the middle of last year, Brazil have only known victories, making it hard for those on the sidelines to force their way in. Their side contained just one name who has featured regularly in the World Cup qualification squad -- left footed midfielder Lucas Lima, who has dropped to the bench since Tite took over.
Lucas Lima, then, was under pressure to show something, and his bleached-blonde hair meant he was unlikely to be ignored. He was a candidate to be the game's outstanding player in the opening period, when he showed the versatility of his talent, starting the moves from deep and also getting into the penalty area to force the save of the first half from visiting goalkeeper David Gonzalez. In Brazilian popular perception, though, the pendulum of popularity seems to have swung against him, and both the crowd in the stadium and social media debaters were unimpressed.
Goalscorer Dudu cut a busy figure, getting through plenty of work on either flank. His problem, though, is that Brazil have an embarrassment of riches in the wide attacking positions, making it very difficult for him to force his way into contention.
There is not the same luxury of choice in central midfield, where some have been championing the claims of Wallace of Gremio. He gave a competent performance, shielding the defence and keeping the play ticking over. But he lacks the passing range of the current full strength incumbent, Casemiro of Real Madrid. In fairness to Wallace, the long ball forward was hardly an option given Tite's strange choice of centre-forward. His first choice at full strength is the new Manchester City acquisition Gabriel Jesus, full of explosive pace. For this match, though, he went with a player of contrasting characteristics, the strong but ponderous veteran Diego Souza.
It was at the other end of the field, though, that Tite could be entitled to feeling most satisfied. Back in November at home to Argentina, he faced a problem after just five minutes. Trying to mark Lionel Messi, defensive midfielder Fernandinho picked up a very early yellow card and Tite thought about a substitution. The obvious candidate to introduce was Rodrigo Caio, a centre-back who can also play in the holding role. Tite thought about it but decided not to. Caio was too inexperienced for such a challenge. But the Sao Paulo defender was almost immaculate against the Colombians, and made a strong case for the man of the match award. If Tite were to find himself in the same situation again, this time he would surely have fewer qualms about calling for Caio.
And what of Colombia? Since making their World Cup quarterfinal debut in 2014, Pekerman's side have consistently disappointed and the friendly against Brazil offered more evidence for the view that the coach has yet to get the blend right. In his last World Cup qualifier, away to Argentina, he packed his side with defensive midfielders and came unstuck. If anything, this time he went too far the other way. His opening formation, with an out and out striker in Miguel Borja backed up by another one in Teo Gutierrez, a playmaker in Macnelly Torres and a left winger (Jonathan Copete) surely stretched the side out too far.
It was a test for the midfield duo behind them. Mateus Uribe showed promising dynamism, and was unlucky not to score when he hit the post with a first half header. And Abel Aguilar showed he may well still have a role to play. An international as far back as 2004, Aguilar has been blighted by injuries over the last few years, and his ability to knit the team together has been missed. But now back home at Deportivo Cali he is getting plenty of game time and playing his way back into form. If not him, Colombia need someone with his characteristics in central midfield if they are to qualify for Russia 2018 and do themselves justice in the tournament.
As well as looking forward to the next World Cup, the game also shone a light on the last one. The crowd, below 19,000, was disappointing, but the Rio public appear reluctant to visit the Nilton Santos stadium. The attendance would surely have been much bigger had the game taken place at the Maracana. But the iconic ground remains unusable, in a poor state and in the middle of a political row about who is going to maintain and operate it.
That this is happening so soon after vast sums of public money were spent on the venue for the 2014 World Cup final is nothing short of a disgrace.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.