Brazil-Paraguay preview

FOREVER DOOMED?

When Dunga led a World Cup “failure” and Mano Menezes was picked as a replacement, fans rejoiced. There would be no more “defensive” football.

Mano Menezes perhaps now knows just why Dunga picked this style. Molding a successful side that all-out attacks is infinitely harder, particularly with no World Cup qualifiers, and all eyes on them, as recent friendlies and the Copa America have shown.

The boos in Sao Paulo, after Brazil barely beat Romania, said it all. He also commited the heinous crime of losing to Argentina. Even the win against the U.S. may have been different, had the U.S.A. shown more killer mentality (2:20).

Neymar has been bright, and the 4-2 win against Ecuador is definitely progress. Any criticism of this Brazilian team is overblown, considering Menezes’ task.

The work with the defense will be twice as important now, with Thiago Silva continuing his transition to All-World XI, and Dani Alves, so brilliant with Barcelona, looking out of place.

The focus should be on the World Cup in three years time, but the ever-hungry fans are keeping the pressure on…

We’ll see if Menezes can escape his predecessor’s fate.

PARAGUAY

This team seems unremarkable, but is consistent and talented, just like Gerardo Martino prefers. Strangely, they seem to have developed a penchant for conceding late goals.

May have caught a break against Brazil, with Jadson and Fred, the two players who scored against them, likely to start on the bench, while Hulk hasn’t been included in the tournament squad.

KEY PLAYERS:

Maicon and Andre Santos: Opponents have figured out how to match most of the Brazilian attack, but attacking fullbacks have long been a staple of Brazilian football. Paraguay sees them as a weakness, so they should get plenty of time on the ball. Defensively, the fullbacks could also produce more.

Nestor Ortigoza: After being left out of the World Cup squad, Paraguay’s playmaker is turning heads with his performances so far.

Lucas Barrios, Roque Santa Cruz, and Nelson Haedo Valdez: Paraguay’s forwards are hugely interesting, and they have depth here. Any of these could change the match against Brazil. Lucas Barrios, superb for Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga champions, is the most likely to do so, although Santa Cruz has been the best of the three in the group stage.

Julio Cesar: The veteran goalkeeper, after another error against Ecuador, is starting to look less and less world class. He has it in him- which side will come out?

FOUR REASONS PARAGUAY WILL WIN:

1. Tactics: The better tactician, and with more options available, Gerardo Martino has learned more from the first meeting than Mano Menezes.

2. Brazil’s weaknesses are plain: The fullbacks are overattacking, or attacking at the wrong moments (although putting Maicon in for Dani Alves helped), while the defense isn’t playing well. Further forward, Ganso still isn’t good enough, and Robinho seems to have vanished.

3. Brazil has to constantly attack: The fans demand it. That’s why Brazil’s last two results have been 2-2 and 4-2. Paraguay, meanwhile, is notoriously gritty, and despite it’s obvious talent, can attack or defend as much as it wants. What ends up happening is Brazil underachieves and Paraguay overachieves.

4. Julio Cesar is, apparently, a weakness: What happened after that error against Holland? He hasn’t been the same since.

FOUR REASONS BRAZIL WILL WIN:

1. Momentum: Paraguay snuck into the second round with three draws, while Brazil beat Ecuador 4-2. They were more dominant than the scoreboard suggested, with some amazing saves from Elizaga, and inexplicable errors from Cesar.

Brazil also has momentum against Paraguay, Fred scoring in the very last minute, when they met last.

2. Player momentum: Neymar and Pato, poor early in the tournament, redeemed themselves against Ecuador, while Maicon did better than Dani Alves did against Paraguay.

3. Menezes held his own in Game 1: According to Zonal Marking, perhaps the best tactics blog around, neither coach won the tactical battle in game 1. Do that again, and Brazil should win.

4. Clear advantages at forward, wings: Pato, Neymar, and Robinho or Jadson, are developing into the second best forward line at the Copa America, with Fred proving an able backup. Maicon and Andre Santos will have to be given plenty of space, if Paraguay want to clog up the middle, which Paraguay will then win.

PREDICTION:

BRAZIL 2-3 PARAGUAY a.e.t.

Should go much like the first game, which means wide open and a virtual tossup. Paraguay, notoriously gritty, hang on in my prediction.

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