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 By Tim Vickery

Brazil can count themselves lucky after thrilling Copa draw with Ecuador

Philippe Coutinho misses from close range on a golden opportunity in the first half vs. Ecuador.
Philippe Coutinho played a marvelous first half and just missed on two golden chances at goal.

Ecuador might feel hard done by after finishing on level terms with Brazil in the teams' Group B opener in Pasadena, California. A Miller Bolanos cross appeared to bounce off Brazil's Alisson and into the goal, but referees disallowed the goal.

Here are three takes from the match.

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1. All square in battle of the flanks

With the power of Luis Antonio Valencia and the pace and subtlety of Jefferson Montero, Ecuador have a terrifying pair of wingers backed up by attacking full-backs in Juan Carlos Parades and Walter Ayovi. Brazil have Willian and Philippe Coutinho wide, with Dani Alves and Filipe Luis providing the support. Who came out on top?

Ecuador had their moments. Indeed, there could have been few complaints from Brazil, had midfielder Elias been sent off for scything down Montero as he harried toward goal. But Brazil had a few more and were able to get behind the Ecuador defence on a few occasions. This is a Brazil side that appears to be placing more emphasis on possession of the ball. Where recent teams have been obsessed with the counterattack, the addition of Renato Augusto and Casemiro has given an extra-cerebral air to the midfield.

Willian worked the right flank, while Coutinho, in one of his most pleasing performances for his country, drifted infield, with Luis keeping the pitch wide outside him. Brazil could have taken an early lead, especially when Coutinho met Willian's low cross to force an excellent reflex save from Esteban Dreer early on.

Meanwhile, Brazil worked hard to close down the space of Christian Noboa, the passing specialist in the Ecuador midfield and the usual supply line of the dangerous wingers. For the most part, it worked, though Brazil looked unusually vulnerable to the opposition's counter.

The disappointing second half, though, stands as proof of an old adage in football: Under pressure, the last thing you learn can become the first thing you forget. Without an early goal and with the clock ticking away, Brazil's controlled possession was not nearly as impressive after the break.

The Brazil goalkeeper bobbled the ball into his own net, but the goal was disallowed.

2. Alisson lucky on disallowed goal

Once asked what kind of generals he wanted, Napoleon is said to have replied "lucky ones." Brazil coach Dunga must know how he feels.

Back in October, he controversially dropped goalkeeper Jefferson after the first round of World Cup qualification. In came young Alisson, a highly promising keeper who might have been promoted too early.

So far, though, the consequences have not been disastrous. Brazil have yet to lose a game with their new last line of defence. He has made some good saves, but there have also been some errors. He looked very nervy in his debut against Venezuela, but fortunately for him, nothing came of the times when he misjudged crosses (hunting butterflies as it is known in Brazil) or kicked poorly. If any of his slip-ups had been responsible for a goal, criticism from the Brazilian media would have rained down on both keeper and coach.

This time, a grotesque mistake did end up with the ball in the back of his net. Antonio Valencia switched the play, Montero plated forward, and Bolanos shot from a seemingly impossible angle on the right touchline. Alisson got his positioning all wrong and diverted the ball over the line. The Ecuador bench erupted in celebration, and Alisson hung his head in shame, only to be reprieved by the linesman's flag.

The ball was adjudged to have gone out of play, and the strong suspicion is it was not the correct decision. And so, a howler that would have cost the game is forgotten. That is the definition of goalkeeper's luck.

Willian vs Ecuador 160604
Chelsea midfielder Willian was electric for Brazil on both flanks against Ecuador.

3. First good half of the Copa so far

There were no goals in Pasadena perhaps, but especially in the first half, there was an invigorating spectacle and one the competition needed.

Whether it was first-night nerves, hot afternoon kickoffs or a lack of quality, the opening games of the Copa left plenty to be desired. Colombia's win over the USA came as a result of a cheap set piece goal and a debatable penalty that allowed them to sit back and soak up pressure from a disappointing U.S. side.

With the exception of Ecuador's phantom goal, little of what happened in the second half of this game will live long in the memory. But the first 45 minutes, in which two sides with attacking resources traded blows, was by far the best football of the Copa so far.

Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.

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