When the home team sends out four attacking strikers, each of them capable of recycling possession and covering every blade of grass, the opposing coach knows his defenders can expect to be pressed hard for the ball, should they ever get on it, that is.
With Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Barbosa and Luan making up an enviable front line in their last three matches at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016, Brazil have been more than able to exert that kind of pressure on rival defences in their run to the final. Semi-final opponents Honduras can vouch for that, having been overrun by the hosts’ attacking quartet in a comprehensive 6-0 semi-final loss in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday.
Even without the ball, this Seleção side has come up with new ways to hem their rivals in, playing a high pressing game, with their young offensive foursome providing a high-energy first line of defence that has proved hugely effective.
As if that were not enough, behind them the hosts have been able to rely on the services of the tireless defensive midfielder Walace, the kind of player you might describe as inconspicuous were it not for the fact he stands 6’2 (1.88m) tall and that his Amarelinha shirt is barely able to conceal his bulging muscles.
“Some people say that tall players are usually slow, but I’ve got quite short legs and I think that helps me,” said the smiling Gremio midfielder, attempting to explain to FIFA.com how he has been able to cover so much space since coming into the team for the group match against Denmark, which just happened to coincide with Brazil’s first win of the competition. “Obviously I was delighted to break into the team and do my bit in turning our tournament around. I think I’ve helped, but the whole team deserves credit for how we’ve been able close teams down fast.”
Micale has asked the whole team to focus on getting the ball back as quickly as possible, whenever we lose it.
It can be no coincidence that since the Gremio man came into the starting line-up alongside Luan, A Seleção have won all three of their games. That statistic is made even more impressive by the fact they have prevented their opponents from scoring and have racked up 12 goals across 270 minutes of football.
There is much more to Walace’s game than his imposing frame. He makes his presence felt with electric bursts of speed, eating up the ground to make covering tackles and close down space. Such duties are usually performed by a deep-lying holding midfielder, positioned just outside their own box. In Rogerio Micale’s high-energy Seleção, however, Walace is stationed further forward, in a second line of defence, in front of Renato Augusto. With his tireless running, he is holding the Brazilian midfield together.
“Micale has asked the whole team to focus on getting the ball back as quickly as possible, whenever we lose it. That means tracking the ball earlier, higher up the pitch,” explained Walace, repeating the coach’s mantra. “The important thing is to keep possession. When we lose it we have to press so that we can get it back with space available for the front four to show that they can do. That’s my job, along with Renato, the full-backs and even the four players up front. Our orders are to go and press.”
It was by exerting that kind of pressure that A Seleção were able to open their account against the Hondurans at the Maracana, with Neymar, no less, dispossessing Johnny Palacios before bundling the ball past goalkeeper Luis Lopez.
The home fans can expect a similar approach in the final, when Brazil will aim to finally win a title that has eluded them up to now. And if their front men fail to win the ball back, they know that Walace will be right behind them, ready to pounce.