Brazil commitment to Neymar-Philippe Coutinho pairing among takeaways in win over El Salvador
There is only one scenario in which a friendly between Brazil and El Salvador becomes a genuinely worthwhile exercise.
If the underdogs are able to hang on, if the favourites have to work to break the deadlock, then the game can become interesting. How will the big team cope with the frustration of not rolling over the little guys? Who steps up in this situation, and who hides from responsibility?
None of those questions was posed on Tuesday outside Washington, D.C. American referee Jair Marrufo made sure of that.
In the third minute of the game, he awarded Brazil an absurd penalty. Richarlison intelligently turned El Salvador centre-back Roberto Dominguez, who was forced into a desperate tackle. But Dominguez did it well and played the ball -- only for Marrufo to point to the spot. Neymar rolled home the penalty, and Brazil were ahead without breaking a sweat. No tension had time to build, and Brazil went on to a 5-0 win.
It is worth noting that Brazil were awarded a similarly ridiculous penalty on Friday against the U.S. It is almost as if some second-string referees are hypnotised by the shirt.
One wonders, though, whether this does Brazil any favours. When it really matters, might this make the first-string referees more prone to bend the other way, to show that they are not so easily influenced by the presence of the game's glamour boys? Brazil certainly could -- probably should -- have been awarded a penalty in that fateful World Cup quarterfinal defeat to Belgium. Football history could have been different. Instead, they will have gone 20 years without a World Cup triumph by the time of Qatar 2022.
But the buildup to that tournament and, first, next year's Copa America has already begun. Although there was not a great deal to learn from the El Salvador match, there were still crumbs of interest.
The game confirmed the evidence of Friday's meeting with the U.S.: Coach Tite is committed to the Neymar-Phillippe Coutinho partnership, and to balance the side, he appears to be looking for his full-backs to play a more cautious role. Further balance is supplied by midfielder Arthur, who made his first start but already seems to be part of the furniture. In the World Cup, his position was filled by Paulinho, who was most visible breaking into the opposing penalty area. Arthur will do much less of that. But the recent Barcelona signing will organise the passing game from deep and cover space when the move breaks down.
Another newcomer, Richarlison, was the name of the night. As well as winning the penalty, he scored two wonderfully struck goals, one off his right foot and one off his left. Usually seen cutting in from the left flank, he was given a chance in the centre-forward position and grabbed it with all his power. His has been truly a remarkable rise. At the start of last year, he was a key part of the Brazil team that failed to qualify for the under-20 World Cup. Since then, he has gone on to Premier League stardom, first with Watford and now with Everton, and he has placed himself firmly in the running to become Brazil's centre-forward. It is not his natural position, and his movement and back-to-goal game need to be tested much more than they were against El Salvador. But he could hardly have made a better start.