Neymar penalty decides battle of big forwards as Brazil better Uruguay
LONDON -- Three quick thoughts from Brazil's 1-0 friendly win over Uruguay at the Emirates Stadium on Friday.
1. Neymar decides battle of the forwards
You don't usually associate a game featuring Neymar, Luis Suarez, Roberto Firmino and Edinson Cavani with a cold, drizzly night in north London, but the Emirates played host to one of South America's most historic rivalries on Friday.
Brazil came out on top, beating Uruguay 1-0 in this slightly underwhelming friendly thanks to a contentious Neymar penalty, and an evening that promised to be a meeting between some of the world's great forwards ultimately turned out to be a little disappointing. Suarez toiled up front on his own, Cavani seemed to be wasted switching between left and right wings, while Firmino hardly pressed his case for the very open role of Brazil centre-forward, with a huge Copa America only eight months away.
Neymar was the most prominent of the famous foursome, but didn't do a huge amount to dispel the notion that he remains an enormously talented individual only vaguely aware that he's part of a team. Sure, this was only a friendly, but you get the impression that Neymar would be more content knowing people noticed him, rather than his colleagues, or indeed the result.
Brazil were the more positive team in the opening stages, but Uruguay had probably the best chance of the half, as Suarez clipped a cross from the left to the back post, where an inexplicably unmarked Cavani had time to pick his spot on the half-volley, but could only shoot straight at Alisson.
They went close just after the break too, when Suarez struck a low free kick from the edge of the box that the Liverpool keeper dived to his left to paw away. By this stage the game had descended into that loose farce that friendlies often do, substitutions ruining the flow of things with interest kept up by a lingering threat of violence. Two Uruguay players had been booked for kicking Neymar up in the air before half-time, and they continued to nip at his heels for the remainder of the game.
Cavani became another to go into the book for fouling his Paris Saint-Germain colleague, and while it's easy to read too much into these things, it was impossible not to think the Uruguayan had been waiting to do that for, oh, just over a year now.
The game was decided with 15 minutes remaining, as Brazil were given a penalty after Danilo went over in the box. The referee initially appeared to turn down their appeals, but perhaps on advice from his linesman ultimately pointed to the spot. Neymar jogged up and sent Martin Campana the wrong way, netting his 60th goal for the Selecao.
2. Brazil a long way from Copa favourites
"At a minimum, we must reach the final."
The Copa America next year is most certainly a big deal for Brazil, not just because they're hosting but also that they haven't made it past the quarterfinals in the past three editions. You might therefore think that Tite would try to play down expectations, but the Brazil coach's assertion this week that anything less than victory in 2019 would be a failure, suggests that's not in his thinking.
So how close do they look to a team that could reach that final? On this evidence, not very close, and you could even argue that they've regressed since the World Cup.
In the lead-up to Russia 2018, one of the best things about Tite's Brazil was that they carried threat from a range of sources. Gabriel Jesus, Philippe Coutinho, Firmino, Willian and a couple of others shared the attacking burden, but against Uruguay they seemed to slip back into a reliance on Neymar.
Almost everything went through the PSG forward, who spent much of his time loafing around the inside-left channel, looking for an aesthetically pleasing pass through to Firmino, only once or twice actually finding it.
It was as if Brazil had returned to that mindset of Neymar being the only player who could hurt the opposition, a paucity of imagination leading most of their players to instinctively look for him. Sure, they were without Coutinho and Willian, so perhaps this is understandable.
But if Brazil are to meet Tite's stringent targets next summer, they must not allow themselves to slip back into this old mentality.
3. Torreira stands out in familiar surrounds
Naturally Neymar got the biggest cheer from a Brazil-dominated crowd at the Emirates, but not too far behind him was a man who has rapidly become pretty popular in these parts. Lucas Torreira has made a fine impression on the Arsenal fans since his move to London in the summer, and he showed exactly why the natives love him in this game.
Uruguay's pocket tyro was one of the busiest players on the pitch, pressing and harassing Brazil's players as they tried to break through the midfield. He stands out at Arsenal because they hadn't see a player like him for a while, but for his country he's part of a young midfield that is already terrific and has the promise to get even better.
Alongside Torreira sat Rodrigo Bentancur, the lithe and upright Juventus playmaker, and Matias Vecino of Inter. The three of them form a special midfield unit, a blending of styles that combines brains and brawn, subtlety and more industrial qualities.
The beauty for Uruguay is their youth: Vecino is 27, but Torreira is 22 and Bentancur 21. It's been a lingering concern that the long-established leaders in the team -- Suarez, Cavani, the absent Diego Godin -- are ageing, so if they all depart at the same time it would leave a gaping crater in the national team.
However, in their young midfield trio, Uruguay have another brilliant core establishing themselves that could stick around for a generation.