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Blog - The Toe Poke
 By Tim Vickery

England's handling of selfish Neymar a blueprint for slowing down Brazil

While the first meeting between Coach Tite's Brazil squad and a European opponent was a low-key game, it was, nevertheless, a valuable experience -- for both sides.

This was not the kind of test that Germany, Brazil's opponent in March, will provide. England did not look to dominate possession. England's manager Gareth Southgate confessed that his players were so wary of Brazil's attack that their first thought was to defend.

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In fact, this strategy may be frequently used during next year's World Cup as Brazil's opponents look to deny them and their talisman Neymar space while running down the clock. The onus will be on Brazil to carry the game as they play teams that may not be able to match them, but can still beat them.

The threat was always there while playing against England. For most of the game, Marcus Rashford made attempts to get into the space behind Brazil's attacking left-back Marcelo. Indeed, in the final attack Kyle Walker and Dominic Solanke combined down that flank after Marcelo was dispossessed. Tammy Abraham was not far away from meeting the low cross with a touch that would have given England the win.

This is a scenario that could certainly be repeated in the World Cup. Brazil cruised through South America's qualification rounds. In 12 games under Tite they won 10 and played to a draw in the other two. They scored 30 goals but conceded just three. But, this time around, the competition in South America was not high -- a point emphasised by Argentina's astonishing defensive collapse against Nigeria earlier in the day, when they let a two-goal lead slip to lose 4-2.

Down the road, European defences will be more difficult for Brazil. They will have to be more imaginative in the final third of the field, and they will have to play collectively.

Neymar Joe Gomez Brazil England
England debutant Joe Gomez put in a man of the match performance against Brazil and Neymar.

This was not a great night for Neymar, their main attacking star. While his talent, his burst of acceleration, his capacity to improvise at pace were all exceptional, his decisions can still leave much to be desired. At Wembley he tried to do too much, dropping too deep and wandering too far infield in an attempt to pick up possession.

He was frequently too selfish when he was on the ball. When he did pass, too often he chose the harder route, rather than taking the simple option. When these come off -- his surprise dribbles and passes -- the results can be sensational. When they do not, it can slow down the entire team -- keeping them from moving the ball with rhythm to break down a massed, organised and determined defence. Too often Neymar played into the hands of his marker, the debutante Joe Gomez, who many chose as man of the match.

Gomez operated on the right of an England back three, with Eric Dier sitting in front of them. Too often Brazil tried to thread their way through the middle, rather than try to get around and behind the opposing defensive line. The full-backs do not need to attack all the time -- they are aware of the dangers of leaving too much space behind them. But if Brazil can keep moving the ball with patience and probe for openings, then space will open up to launch a surprise attack.

There were hints of Brazil's dazzling quality -- in defence as well, where the centre-back combination of Marquinhos and Miranda were once again quick and sound. There were moments when England seemed on the verge of buckling. But the whisper never turned into a shout. That might be just as well. Tite and his men saw at Wembley that Brazil are among the top teams in contention for next year's World Cup, but they cannot, at this stage, be seen as the overall favourites.

There is plenty to ponder from this match. In Russia next year the degree of difficulty will be higher than it was in qualification. Better to learn that now than next June and better for Brazil's future opponents to take a page out of what Southgate's team did to Neymar as a model going forward.

Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.


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