A quick glance at Brazil’s results since Luiz Felipe Scolari retook the helm and 17 June’s 0-0 draw certainly stands out, with A Seleção Brasileira’s second 2014 FIFA World Cup™ Group A encounter only the second time in 24 matches that Felipão’s charges have failed to score. What's more, the other occasion was a friendly versus Switzerland, shortly after Brazil’s FIFA Confederations Cup 2013 triumph.
Goalscoring, of course, is a variable that coaches can never fully control: players’ finishing might be a touch off; flashes of individual skill might fail to break down a defence; while the opposing keeper may prove to be in inspirational form - as was the case with El Tri’s Guillermo Ochoa on Tuesday in Fortaleza. Yet should any of these come to pass, the defensive resilience imbued by Felipão in his players ensure the chances of defeat remain slim.
“It’s part of our make-up now,” said centre-back David Luiz, in conversation with FIFA.com after a goalless draw during which the Mexicans did create chances, but only from distance, having been unable to make inroads in the Brazilian box.
“It’s a feature of modern football and it’s something our team does very well: everybody attacks and everyone defends," he went on. "It’s something that’s evolved over time and which players like Oscar and Neymar, who play in Europe, have got to grips with well. There are days when the ball just won’t go in, it can happen. But, if we don’t let the opposition score, then we’re already taking a big step towards winning the game, one way or another.”
There is no doubt that boasting two of the most valuable central defenders in the world - in the shape of Thiago Silva and Luiz himself is a definite bonus. Even so, an enormous amount of credit for a record of just 16 goals conceded in 24 games under Scolari must go to A Seleção’s hard-working midfield.
Regardless of names and reputations, whenever Brazil lose the ball it falls to everybody – whether that is Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho, Hulk, Oscar, Ramires, Bernard or Neymar – to do their bit to win it back. “It’s become a truly vital characteristic of ours. We’ve been doing this since the Confederations Cup,” said Neymar, speaking exclusively to FIFA.com after the match. “Even when we’re not managing to score, we can’t go switching off at the back. It gives us more chance of starting attacks too: if we’re all on our on our guard at all times, we can try and win the ball back as quickly as possible.”
This ‘all for one’ mantra has definitively sunk in with Brazil’s No10 and his colleagues. To the extent that all-pervasive tight marking and defensive determination never slips – even when changes to personnel and tactics are required, such as before and during the Mexico encounter.
Unable to start with first-choice wide-player Hulk due to injury, Scolari opted to deploy Ramires on the right flank, only for the Chelsea man – who picked up a booking in the first period – to be replaced at the interval by Bernard. And having begun the second half operating on the right-hand side, the diminutive creator then switched over to the left.
“During a game, Felipão is able to see situations where we might catch our opponents out," Bernard told FIFA. "He might ask us to switch positions for a bit, to try and create more openings. And it works too: it was from the left that I supplied the ball that nearly brought a headed goal from Thiago Silva, when their keeper made a fantastic save. In today’s football it [tracking back] is expected of everybody. It’s no different for wide attackers like me, whichever flank you play on.”
Nor was it the only tactical switch made by the Brazilians over the course of the game. In the last 20 minutes, with fatigue becoming a factor in Fortaleza, David Luiz moved into central midfield - a position he played on occasion for Chelsea last season - and rangy midfielder Luiz Gustavo dropped back in defence.
“We swapped position two or three times late on, because I’d got more in the tank to get around midfield than Luiz [Gustavo] did,” Luiz told FIFA.com.
All in the name of teamwork and commitment to the cause. And whatever happens in front of goal, Brazil fans can be sure of one thing: with Felipão in charge, those qualities will never be lacking.