There is always pressure when you are a part of the most sctrutinised international team on the planet. This past World Cup in South Africa was seen as a last chance for a golden generation of players to bring the trophy back home to where it belongs. Alas the team came home early, leaving fans and media alike crying out for a new manager, new players, new tactics; pretty much new everything.
Change the fans got as new Brazilian manager Mano Menezes used his first game in charge to test out a school of new young players as Brazil took on the USA in a friendly in New Jersey’s new £1bn New Meadowland Stadium. Below are some thoughts I took away from the game:
1. Menezes is no Dunga. It’s an old cliché to talk about Jogo Bonito when discussing Brazilian football; an undeserved crown bestowed on Brazil after years of pragmatic Europeanised tactics of previous managers like Dunga. If Tuesday night was any guide then soon Nike shall be re-working its old adverts for this Brazil team played with the sort of guile, panache and abandon that only young teams ever seem to display. Sound familiar? Well it should do for it was reminiscent of the young Germany team in South Africa.
2. Robinho can lead. This may surprise Roberto Mancini, and astonish Mark Hughes, but Robinho did everything you’d expect of a captain. He wasn’t selfish or greedy; he cajoled and encouraged teammates when they misplaced passes and he led by example – displaying all of the tricks, dribbles and passes that persuaded Manchester City to part with €35m for him. If only City boss Mancini could find a way to persuade Robinho to love Manchester like he does Brazil.
3. Bobby meets Franz. Okay, I’m being slightly premature in declaring Thiago Silva and David Luiz as the new Moore and Beckenbauer. What Brazil have are two ball-playing centre backs, two players who are not afraid to bring the ball out from the back or to attempt searching passes downfield.
However, both were at fault defensively in the 3rd minute when Landon Donovan could easily have won a penalty. Donovan ran on to a pass 25 metres from goal and nicked the ball past Luiz who had decided to try to intercept the pass rather than block-off Donovan’s run. As Donovan broke in to the box Silva tried a clumsy tackle which would have brought a penalty had Donovan chosen not to stay on his feet.
4. Honesty ain’t the best policy. It’s hard to criticise a player for not jumping at the chance to fall down and win a penalty but Donovan really should know that referees don’t tend to give penalties to players who don’t go down. Donovan was bumped by Silva, contact was clear, a penalty was almost certain. In a more meaningful game some refs may even have sent Silva off. It would have been interesting to see how Brazil would have responded to going behind so early in the match. It would have been nice for the American fans to see their team score first for once!
5. Believe the hype. Kaka says Ramires will soon be the best midfielder in the world. Kaka says his former AC Milan teammate Pato will be the FIFA World Player of the Year one day. USA Coach Bob Bradley says Pato’s strike partner Neymar has ‘special ability’. Correct, correct and correct again.
Chelsea may have a bargain in getting Ramires for €20m. He played the ‘Dictator’ role, rotating around the midfield – searching for the ball and then taking his time before constantly choosing the right pass. He won’t get that sort of time in England but I doubt he’ll take long to adapt.
Neymar and Pato are frail young men, waspish in nature. Both have been linked with moves to Chelsea and you would fear for them in the hustle and bustle of English football. They make Robinho look like Didier Drogba; but my they can play. Quick, elusive and oh so calm – are they really only 18 and 20 years old respectively?
The play of all-three was summed up at the end of the second half when Ramires slid the ball through the middle for Pato to beat the offside trap, swerve past Tim Howard and clip the ball in to the empty net. All in one movement, all in the blink of the eye. It was Pato this time, it could easily have been Neymar. Jogo Bonito indeed.
6. Americans can catch. There’s a reason why America produces goalkeepers – when an American sees a ball, his first instinct is to pick it up rather than kick it. Americans learn to catch young as that’s what you do in American sports. Brad Guzan is another impressive keeper who stood tall against a flurry of shots in the second half. The 25 year old looks a worthy understudy to compatriot Brad Friedel at Aston Villa.
7. Summer of soccer. 90,000 saw LA Galaxy play Real Madrid in California. Nearly 80,000 watched MLS play Manchester United in the All-Star game in Texas. And over 77,000 New Yorkers braved the evening humidity to watch the US national team.
Americans ‘get’ soccer.
Gaffe of the Day – Landon Donovan’s honesty. I know, I know.
Play of the Day – Pato’s goal was a throwback to 82, 70, 58…
Man of the Match – Ramires. He put on a clinic.