Football Features

“He’s a man on a mission!” – Five things learned as Neymar masterminds Brazil beyond Chile into the Copa America semi-finals

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 4:17, 3 July 2021

In a tight and tense night of football, 10-man Brazil beat Chile 1-0 to advance to the Copa America semi-finals.

A match-up against Peru awaits for the tournament hosts and favourites after they edged Chile in a scrappy affair in Rio de Janeiro. What did we learn?

1. Neymar too nice

In the ongoing battle for player of the tournament, Neymar once again laid down his cards against Leo Messi. Both men have been superb so far at the 2021 Copa, living up to their big billing as the two star turns at the tournament. Neymar has had a much more solid team to play with but he’s also had to come through a physical trial like the Colombia match.

Tonight offered nothing like that resistance as Chile could never live with Neymar. Whenever Brazil did anything good, it was the PSG man the play flowed through. After so many stars had failed to show up at the Euros, Neymar repeatedly makes performing under pressure look easy. Even Brazil’s goal came from an lovely flick off his heel as he forced Sebastian Vegas into a mistake with his improvisation amd w

Now he moves on to face Peru again, having already masterminded a 4-0 destruction of them back in the group stages. Would you bet against him doing it again? Remember: Brazil won the Copa without Neymar in 2019 and judging by how absurdly well he is playing in 2021, the Brazilian no. 10 is very much aware of that fact: he’s a man on a mission to prove how essential he is.

2. Chile caught between eras

For Chile they spent this entire tournament being caught between two eras. They were fundamentally underwhelming in almost every game at the tournament, winning just once (1-0 against Bolivia). In hindsight their 1-1 draw with Argentina was incredibly fortunate and owed more to the profligacy of the Argentines than anything Chile did.

The issue for La Roja is that while they have some bright young talents, especially the Stoke-born Ben Brereton who got the assist for their goal against Uruguay, scored the match-winner against Bolivia and struck the bar in the second-half today, the side was saddled with carrying around the ghosts of 2015 and 2016.

While Claudio Bravo performed with distinction you’d be hard-pressed to say the same about Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel and especially Alexis Sánchez who absurdly got the start ahead of Brereton today in a move that probably cost Chile in the first-half.

The spine of Chile’s golden era is now well and truly past their best and if the team is to move forward around promising talents like Brereton and still functional veterans like Bravo, Charles Aranguiz and Eduardo Vargas, they will have to say goodbye to some legends first.

3. Paqueta solves Brazil’s striker problem

When you play tight, marginal football like Brazil do and your best player is as comfortable creating goals as scoring them, you’re always going to need players to occasionally step up and be the hero. Tonight that man was Lucas Paqueta.

Starting on the bench, Paqueta came on at half-time for the intensely underwhelming Roberto Firmino, striker is the one position Brazil still have not cracked, and within a minute he scored the only goal of the game.

A quick exchange of passes with Neymar was followed up by an emphatic finish that gave us the solution to Brazil’s striker problem. It showed that the Selecao could have success without a recognised striker as Neymar was nominal false nine at the time and it was his flick that caused the goal. And if you have someone like Paqueta, who can be so clinical in the box, and goalscoring wide players like Richarlison and Everton Ribeiro; why persist with a misfiring forward like Firmino?

4. The goalkeeping carousel is an absurd flex

Brazil have the strongest squad at the Copa America by quite dome distance. And nowhere do we see that better than in the absurd flex that is Tite’s goalkeeping rotations. Ordinarily teams pick a starting goalie and even if the back-up is good, just to avoid chemistry and momentum issues, they ride with their starters all tournament.

Tite, on the other hand, has the two best goalkeepers at the tournament in his squad. And he knows his team in general is so much stronger than their opponents. So he’s been rotating goalkeepers. Alisson kept goal for the opener against Venezuela, then Ederson came in against Peru, Weverton got to go in goal against Colombia before Alisson stepped in for the last game against Ecuador and then today Ederson was back in for the quarters.

The true test of Tite’s flex will be if he brings Weverton back in for the semi-final, all signs so far would indicate yes. After all he showed no hesitation starting Weverton in the group’s biggest game against Colombia, and they already beat Peru 4-0 in the groups. And what better way to flex your absurd squad strength than starting your third choice goalkeeper in the semi-finals?

5. Brazil too tough, too good

One of the things that can be said about Brazil is that they don’t play magical football. That they’re a bit workmanlike and disciplined with just a sprinkle of stardust from Neymar. And that’s probably true, but before we can be too critical of that Tite would definitely point

Gabriel Jesus’ red card should really have caused more problems for Brazil than it did. The forward was sent off for a ridiculous flying kick onto poor Eugenio Mena just minutes after Brazil had taken the lead. That should have been the signal to Chile to really hammer Brazil, and while they tried they just couldn’t do it. Without making any more subs until stoppage time, Tite had his boys enter shutdown mode.

Brazil just rode the rest of the game out. They were too disciplined and more than that just too good for Chile to hurt. The closest La Roja came was a goal disallowed for offside, and then a header off the crossbar. Beyond those two moments Brazil remained in control even with 10 men. This strength is what will probably see them retain the Copa America for the first time since 2007. Who can possibly beat a side that is both this talented and also this dogged and determined?