By securing qualification for the last 16 comfortably early, Brazil‘s Carlos Dunga had the luxury of giving starts to squad members in what was a tempestuous affair against Portugal . And to think there were those who argued before hand that these two countries have an amicable relationship both on and off the pitch. One can only imagine the card count if they didn’t like each other.
The third and final encounter in Group G saw Robinho, injury-victim Elano and the unluckily suspended Kaka, replaced by Nilmar, Barcelona’s Dani Alves and former Arsenal forward Julio Baptista respectively, from Sunday’s win over the Ivory Coast. Of the trio, only Alves had seen any tournament action to date, but in an energy-sapping competition like the World Cup it’s inevitable that there will be some changes to the first-choice team along the way. Hence the necessity for finding out who is up to the rigours of football’s premier tournament.
The quality and depth of the Brazilian squad has been evidenced over the last couple of seasons by the fact that Alves is not a regular for the Selecao given his domination of three-quarters of the right-flank for Barcelona – the other third belonging to a certain Lionel Messi.
Many have called for his introduction just ahead of Douglas Maicon in midfield given Elano’s lack of pace and the absence of suitable alternatives. However, Dunga is nothing if not loyal and Elano has rewarded him with two goals in tournament so far.
Unfortunately for Alves, this dead rubber didn’t lend itself to impressing given that his team-mates seemed more inclined to defend their unbeaten run than actively seek victory. He was rarely in the game and nor did he contribute much of note in the course of the match. More impressive was Robinho’s replacement Nilmar. The Villareal striker – who’d served England notice of his ability with the winning goal in Doha last November – was the star of a bitty first-half in which he went close to opening the scoring and destroyed Portugal right-back Alves. His blistering pace and neat tricks make him a more than adequate back-up for the first-choice Robinho or potential threat from the substitutes bench as the tournament cranks up a level in intensity and importance.
Less impressive was Julio Baptista. The big attacker is not well-loved by the Selecao supporters who would have preferred to have seen the likes of Ronaldinho or new wonder-boy Neymar called up instead. It could be argued the 28-year-old has been a shadow of the player that burst onto the scene with Sevilla over half-a-decade ago, one good showing for Arsenal apart. Given Kaka’s attacking position behind Luis Fabiano, the Roma man just couldn’t make any sort of impression on the game and he was substituted without great fuss eight minutes from time having been on the receiving end of a hefty Ricardo Carvalho tackle.
It would be a real surprise if, injuries permitting, Baptista is seen again.
Other squad members to have seen some game time in Durban included Ramires and Wolfsburg-duo Josue and Grafite for their first glimpse of action at the 2010 tournament. Unfortunately none of these three were able to make any impact on what was a truly turgid affair. While a draw suited both teams coming into the tie, the worry for Brazil is that the momentum and good feeling generated by their demolition of the Ivory Coast disappeared in the negativity that dominated this encounter.