Brazil never thought their opening match at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ would be easy, not against a disciplined and physical Switzerland side that has made a habit of preventing their opponents from playing. And that was exactly what they did against Tite’s side for large parts of Sunday evening in Rostov. In the end, a 1-1 draw did not exactly come as a surprise.
There were occasions, however, when Brazil found a way through the Swiss blockade, as you might expect from a side containing Marcelo, Philippe Coutinho and Neymar, a talented trio who combined to good effect down one flank in particular: the left.
Not every side at Russia 2018 will play with the same energy and discipline as the Helvetians. And yet even on Sunday and without their star names quite being at their best, A Seleção still combined to create the kind of openings they needed if they were going to win. And it was one such opening that led to Coutinho’s stunning strike.
The trio pose a threat to any team. “The three of them are probably among the ten best players in the world,” said Brazil midfielder Renato Augusto in conversation with FIFA. One of his side’s most effective performers on the night, Augusto came on as a second-half substitute in Rostov, slotting into the left side, with Coutinho moving elsewhere.
Even when the going is tough, the very best players can make football look a simple game. Coutinho’s description of his goal is an example of that: “The defender cleared the ball and as soon as it came to me I decided I was going to shoot. I created a bit of space for myself and hit it”, he said after picking up the Budweiser Man of the Match award.
While that account makes his wonder goal sound anything but remarkable, the fact is that it came from the least clear-cut chance that Brazil created all night. In the final ten minutes alone, they carved out a string of presentable opportunities, and failed to convert any of them.
Tite later identified anxiety as a key factor in his side’s wayward finishing. “It’s only to be expected,” said Augusto. “We’ve been working for four years for this, so it’s bound to affect you a little. But Switzerland obviously deserved it and they played their game too.”
In the midfielder’s view, one of the conclusions Brazil can draw from the evening is that they need to mix it up and also look to the right flank. “We have to make the most of Willian, another high-quality player, so that we don’t become predictable,” he said, before pointing to the impact Dani Alves’ injury has had on the side. “He gave us a lot of balance. Danilo has just come into the side and getting to grips with our style. He’s very strong, though, and we can do some exploring with him too.”
“Balance” is a concept close to Tite’s heart. His game plan involves attacking from anywhere and from every possible angle. Even so, should A Seleção come up against another defence as solid as Switzerland’s during the rest of the tournament, they will always have that outlet down the left to exploit.