Brazil get 'revenge' vs. Germany: seven observations from Berlin
Anticlimactic as it was for those expecting a high-charged game, Brazil's 1-0 win against Germany in Berlin on Tuesday nevertheless offered some interesting observations about the Selecao's state of affairs for Russia 2018.
But apart from the fact that the absence of Neymar did not throw the team into meltdown mode, what else was learned? In the spirit of pure football banter, we list seven observations...
1. Brazil can do "perspiration over inspiration" if needed
Never mind that Germany fielded a second-string team at the Olympiastadion. Brazil manager Tite put in practice a game plan that pretended even Bastian Schweinsteiger and Phillip Lahm were still around: perspiration over inspiration. By stealing balls more than trying to create spaces, the Selecao disturbed Joachim Low's team and could have actually scored a couple more goals in the second half.
The most interesting aspect was their obsession with making Toni Kroos uncomfortable. The Real Madrid midfielder was followed like a shadow by Paulinho as a part of their collective attempts to deny him space to participate in starting Germany's attacking moves.
"We wanted to neutralise [Kroos'] vertical passing. I don't mind if he gets 56 passes right as long as they are all lateral," joked Tite. Being able to change approaches is something that Brazil definitely lacked in the last two World Cups. In Russia, it could prove crucial and there is no shame in eating a bit of humble pie.
2. Silva is closer than ever to a return
Had he not engaged in a post-match outburst in which he demanded "more respect for the Selecao," Thiago Silva would have had a perfect night in Berlin. After losing his place on the starting XI and the captaincy during the Dunga days, spending most of the time since as a understudy for PSG teammate Marquinhos, the veteran defender is back into contention. Two safe displays against Russia and Germany left the impression that Tite could favour his mileage and experience over Marquinhos' youth.
Silva might not be the unanimous pre-2014 World Cup pick and there are still doubters around, but he is edging his way back into the mix in the only way possible: by playing good football. Speeches and sound bites are not really the thing needed now.
3. The class of 2014 is alive and well
Silva's tale, as a matter of fact, is exhibit A in the argument that the Class of 2014 is not at all dead and buried. If you consider all the players already indicated by the manager to have made his final list to Russia 2018, barring injury or a horrendous loss of form, seven veterans of the last World Cup are starters for 2018: Dani Alves, Marcelo, Paulinho, Fernandinho, Willian, Silva and Neymar.
In Brazil, there are fans and pundits who see that as a sign of scarcity when it comes to unearthing new players, despite the emergence of names such as Philippe Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino. Others, such as 1970 World Cup Winner Tostao, believe the seasoned survivors make this Brazil's strongest crop of players in 12 years.
"Brazil's chances of doing well and winning the World Cup are good," wrote Tostao in his Folha de S. Paulo column after the Berlin friendly.
4. Coutinho is a headache for Tite
In his post-match news conference, Tite said that the Selecao "was learning to play without Neymar." But before anybody could pounce, the manager quickly referred to the PSG forward as "our main player, a world top 3."
What Tite cannot do is simply wait to see how Brazil's talismanic player will recover from a foot injury and therefore, the key to making up for his absence is Philippe Coutinho. Against Russia, the manager tested a more attacking formation, in which Douglas Costa filled in for Neymar and Coutinho paired up with Paulinho in a midfield anchored by Casemiro -- a formation much more likely to be deployed against teams who could try to "park the bus."
In Berlin, however, Coutinho was deployed up front on the left and looked more comfortable, while a midfield with Fernandinho and Paulinho applied more bite. Coutinho's success could be tricky when Neymar, his old mate from Brazil youth team days, comes back.
"I think you guys are wrong when you think those two overlap. They can complete each other," Tite said.
5. Alisson is cruising
The goalkeeper is behind Roma's defensive success in Serie A and looks set to become the first goalkeeper to start for a Brazil in a World Cup without previous experience in the tournament, even as a bench player. The last time it happened was in 2002, with Marcos. Despite Manchester City's incredible season in the Premier League, Ederson looks set to be an understudy.
In 25 Selecao games, Alisson kept 15 clean sheets. While Low's tinkered Germany XI didn't really threaten him with a barrage of shots, the goalkeeper was quick on his feet when needed.
6. "Alves Avenue" remains a concern
There is not a better a right-back in Brazil than Daniel Alves. That's not up for debate here. However, the spaces he leaves while going forward are tempting for opponents, something Leroy Sane threatened to exploit in the Germany friendly. In the same game, Willian tried to help close the space down, but Brazil will have to be aware of it moving forward.
Another complication is that the 34-year-old Alves had lukewarm displays in the latest internationals. His immediate replacement is Danilo, despite not getting many minutes under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
7. There is no not too much space left on the plane
Brazil still get to face Croatia and Austria before kicking off their World Cup campaign on June 17, but that will happen almost at the same time they and the other 31 nations taking part in the tournament need to present a final list of 23 players.
Brazil's squad looks fairly full already with regard to players who have a realistic chance of getting on the plane. The biggest doubts (if you can call them that) are the name of the third goalkeeper and the possibility of Tite bringing a youngster to get a whiff of the World Cup atmosphere, just like Kaka rounded out the 2002 squad and Ronaldo enjoyed the trip in 1994.
Fernando Duarte is a U.K.-based Brazilian football expert who has reported on the Selecao for over a decade. Follow him on Twitter: @Fernando_Duarte.