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She beat Neymar; here's Natalia Guitler's story

Blog - ESPN FC United
 By Tim Vickery

Colombia to test Brazil's mettle in Olympics QF with Neymar in doubt

After the opening 0-0 draw with South Africa, Brazil coach Rogerio Micale said that the only thing his side had lacked was the tiny detail of a goal.

It was a poor analysis, which led to an even worse performance in the next game, another 0-0 draw against Iraq. Micale sent out the same team, with the same defects to a match where, because of the disappointing debut, the pressure was even greater. Insanity, as Einstein once said, is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

But Brazil's low profile coach seems far from insane. He comes across as thoughtful and impressive. He was just a little slow to correct a basic problem in his team -- a defect so clear that one wonders how it had not been evident in the team's preparation.

Brazil went into the competition with a 4-3-3 formation, Gabriel Jesus up front flanked by Gabriel Barbosa and captain Neymar. Jesus is a front to goal player. The gap between him and the midfield was enormous, making it very hard for the team to play collectively. With no approximation, there was no fluidity. The three forwards were like swimmers sticking in their same lanes.

Brazil coach Rogerio Micale
Brazil coach Rogerio Micale must get his tactics right against Colombia to keep their gold medal dream alive.

And, as always in football, if the collective side of things is wrong, it becomes very hard for the individuals to shine. The solo breaks of the stars were easily picked off by the opposing defence. "The team runs too much with the ball," wrote 1970 great Tostao, the wisest voice in the Brazilian game, "dribbles too much and is in too much of a hurry to charge at the opposing goal. This, in recent times, has become a characteristic of Brazilian football."

And this was also the tragedy of the start made by Brazil to their Olympic campaign. The hope was that this side would not only cruise to the gold medal, but also that it could mark a moment when Brazilian football started to bounce back, when a new coach implemented modern ideas. Instead, there was a risk that Micale's team was digging Brazil even deeper into the hole. In part, that risk still exists -- anything less than the gold medal will be seen as another crushing defeat. But at least in the third group game against Denmark, backs to the wall with humiliating elimination a real possibility, there was evidence of constructive thinking and time well spent on the training ground.

Micale gave his team an important tweak for the crunch game. Gabriel Jesus was moved to a position wide on the left, with Gabriel Barbosa remaining on the other flank. Neymar came into a more central role, where he could be in constant contact with the ball, and midfielder Felipe Anderson was dropped for the inclusion of another forward, Luan. Versatile and intelligent, Luan shared centre-forward duties with Neymar. One of them was always dropping to link up with the midfield -- sometimes it was both of them, with one of the Gabriels cutting infield opening up space for an overlapping full back. Gone was that awful gap between the lines. There was approximation, triangulation, fluid collective play, and four goals to send the Salvador crowd home happy.

Brazil striker Neymar
Brazil fans will be hoping Neymar is fit enough to take on Colombia.

This should be the template for the rest of the competition. A quick rethink might be called for should Neymar be unfit for Saturday's quarterfinal -- he was limping badly on Thursday but is apparently not a major concern. Providing the captain is OK, then Micale will surely send out his side in the same basic formation -- which is a little like an old fashioned 4-2-4. But it does come with a risk -- one which Brazil's next opponents might be well placed to expose.

The problem, of course, is the danger of the midfield pair being over-run -- especially present when one of them is Renato Augusto, not the most dynamic of markers. Brazil have yet to concede a goal in the tournament, in large part due to the feebleness of the opposition. Even so, there have been times when elegant centre-back Rodrigo Caio has been troubled for pace. Against speedy and more threatening opponents, he might be tempted to drop deep -- leaving the midfield pair with a lot of space to cover.

This is where Colombia are such interesting opponents. Teofilo Gutierrez is a striker with much more quality than anything Brazil have faced so far, and the bullet fast Dorlan Pabon also carries a considerable threat. Colombia have been playing both of them plus a centre-forward -- either Miguel Borja or Harold Preciado. Against the hosts it might make more sense for them to pack the midfield, drop the centre forward and look for Pabon and Gutierrez on the break. The longer they can frustrate Brazil, the more chance they have of taking advantage of spaces that might open up between the lines of Micale's team.

Brazil appear to have put themselves on the right path to the gold medal. But Colombia are a fascinating stone on the way.

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


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