What Went Right? Even with a more tactically disciplined 4-5-1 formation — which played more like a 4-4-1-1 linkup — that got away from the traditionally elegant 4-2-2-2 they’ve historically played, Brazil still managed to employ it in a way that was “La Joga Bonita”. Extraordinary service from the flanks, and not just from the two midfield halves, but also from the fullbacks – and the two fullbacks put paid to the fact that any Brazilian player can score from anywhere. Attacked with both directness and flair; Brazil was the best in the tournament at making the Route One work. Pretty decent aerial ability for most of the tournament. The two front men were as good as any in the tournament, frequently getting behind the backline, getting on the end of very good service, and taking quality shots on target. The forwards were so good at finding space in the penalty area that opposing defenders frequently found themselves having to take them on one-on-one and, predictably, getting broken down by their omnipotent ball skills. Because their backline has surprising size they played with a certain physicality this side had not shown in past World Cups, making sure their opponents knew they were going to take people on. Surprising defensive positioning, reading of the game, and aerial ability in the back, and they were able to shut down opposition approaches on the flanks. For most of the tournament Brazil did a really good job of keeping the opposition from getting into the box with any regularity.
What Went Wrong? This side had a surprising and disturbing idiosyncrasy of getting the lead and then mailing it in from there. Even thought they never dropped back in defense in numbers, but it’s as if they would get a lead, let their defenders handle the ugly stuff, and then relax going forward with the notion that whoever they were playing just wouldn’t put up much of a fight thereafter. The synthesis of this probably germinated from their coach, Dunga, having done such a good job of instilling a defensive backbone in them that they mistakenly figured that one goal early and maybe a second one late was enough. As good as they were at taking set pieces they were surprisingly bad at defending them and in the end it really, really mattered. Most of all, the one person they identified as their talisman just never got off the schneid. Outside of Dani Alves Brazil got surprising little from their bench.
Who Stepped Up To The Plate? Target man Luis Fabiano and linkup man Robinho took a backseat to no other forward tandem in this tournament. Kaka was a key provider just behind the two forwards. Maicon was one of the two or three best fullbacks in the tournament and has earned every accolade as one of the best there is, while his counterpart on the left, Michel Bastos, didn’t contribute nearly as much in attack but was just as proficient in the back. Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva were their usual stout just in front of the backline, but what made them both invaluable was their ability to contribute both distribution and added scoring going forward. Lucio and Juan were a vast improvement physically over previous center back tandems. Why it is they couldn’t get Dani Alves on the pitch for every game is beyond me.
Who Didn’t Show Up? Julio Cesar, their goalkeeper touted pre-tournament as one of the best in the world, was just so-so. As much as I admired Lucio and Juan for their reading of the game and their renewed physicality, when it came time to defend set pieces they just plain stunk. Brazil expected Kaka to be their Messi; he was just as disappointing.
How Was The Coaching? What it is we’ve come to expect from Dunga these last four years. Considering he was one of the greatest elegantly creative players in Brazilian football history, Dunga belied his playing philosophy and as a coach instilled a decidedly European backbone and mentality into this side defensively without sacrificing the elegant dance that is instinctive. It actually worked for the most part. What must be noted is that however increasingly accurate the Dutch were getting with their passing and offensive buildup in the quarterfinals, it was set pieces that did in Brazil, not the run of play. Dead-ball strategy, both in attack and defense, had become one of the main strengths of this Brazilian side since Dunga took over. However, against the Dutch, it cost them the match. Can’t really blame Dunga for that. But you know how Brazilians are: “We didn’t win because we didn’t play our Beautiful Game so the coach must go.” Not much you can do about that.
Did They Finish Where They Were Expected? Do I really need to answer this?
Now What? This is Brazil. They’re going to win international tournaments no matter who coaches them and what approach they take. They get the next World Cup in 2014. So understand something right now: On home soil they will be under the most extreme amount of pressure like they’ve never been before. They have no choice but to lift that trophy in Rio de Janeiro, no matter what it takes.