Gabriel Jesus reminds how good Brazil can be in 3-0 win over Ecuador
This was a match in which a draw would have been an acceptable result, so the era of coach Tite could hardly have started better, with Brazil coming down from the mountain celebrating a win against Ecuador at the altitude of Quito. In a venue where the hosts are so strong, Brazil's 3-0 win is a massive morale booster. It should be a sign of better things to come. It is certainly a sign that, belatedly, Brazil have the right man in charge of their national team.
Tite has had next to no time to work with his players, which is a normal complaint of national team coaches. But if they lack opportunities to work on the training ground, they have plenty of time to observe the opposition. The platform of Brazil's victory was the way that they annulled the strengths of Ecuador, before making sure of the three points with three goals in the last 20 minutes.
Ecuador's threat, especially at altitude, is obvious. They make the pitch big with rapid transitions to their wingers, with Jefferson Montero on the left especially dangerous. He can give a right-back twisted blood, and in the opening minutes, he was dancing round Dani Alves at will. If his end product was more consistent, then Brazil could well have found themselves behind. But Tite dealt with the threat by trying to strangle his supply line.
Ecuador's key man in midfield is Christian Noboa, whose range of passing brings the wingers into the game. Stop Noboa and the opposition go a long way toward stopping Ecuador.
This was Brazil's priority, and it helps explain the recall of Paulinho, a Tite favourite at Corinthians, whose career seemed to have been in decline with an unhappy spell at Tottenham followed by a move to China. To avoid burnout at altitude, the job of marking Noboa was rotated. At times, Gabriel Jesus dropped from centre-forward to close him down; at other times, it was Neymar or Renato Augusto. But mostly, it was Paulinho, when he was not helping Alves get a grip on Montero.
It speaks volumes for the success of Brazil's game plan that keeper Alisson did not have a serious shot to save until the 77th minute, when he tipped a Miller Bolanos shot round for a corner. By that time, Brazil had just taken the lead and Ecuador's right-back Juan Carlos Paredes had been sent off.
True, Brazil's task was eased by some Ecuadorian absences. Antonio Valencia was suspended, and the hosts badly missed his attacking pace and power, as well as his defensive nous. Coach Gustavo Quinteros made a bold decision to replace him by selecting both his centre-forwards, moving Enner Valencia over to the right -- his original position -- and leaving Felipe Caicedo as the target man. It did not work.
Enner Valencia looked horribly out of touch, while Caicedo is not sufficiently mobile enough to get much change out of the Brazil centre-backs. And it left the side too open, a problem made worse by the absence through injury of senior centre-back Frickson Erazo. Without him, the Ecuadorian defence could never seem to decide whether to push up -- and leave themselves open to the threat of the ball being played behind them -- or drop deep and give Brazil too much space in midfield.
In the end, they paid the price. Gabriel, one of Brazil's Olympic heroes, was having an indifferent debut at centre-forward, troubling the defence with his pace but snatching at his shots and continually running offside. The last 20 minutes, though, belonged to him.
His speed took him behind the defensive line, where he was brought down by keeper Alexander Dominguez for a penalty, confidently converted by Neymar. And with confidence soaring, Gabriel helped himself to two outstanding goals in the final stages: a clever flick and a shot on the turn. The first of his goals was especially noteworthy, rounding off a fine four-man move and reminding older viewers of Brazilian football at its finest.
How much can change in 90 minutes. Brazil can now hardly wait to take the field in front of their own fans against Colombia in Manaus on Tuesday, while Ecuador will travel to Peru in a state of trepidation. The early leaders have suffered two consecutive defeats and gone three games without a win -- all part of the fluctuating fortunes of this fascinating marathon campaign.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.