In the other semifinal, defending champion Chile and underdog Peru play in Porto Alegre on Wednesday.
In a change from the quarterfinals, teams will play extra time if the first 90 minutes are drawn.
Neither Tite nor Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni have given much suggestion into how their teams will play their superclasico in Belo Horizonte. Sunday’s training sessions were closed to the media.
The Brazilian coach doesn’t like to make changes, meaning his team could stick to the 4-1-3-1 formation it has used for most of the tournament, with sensation Everton, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino closing midfield gaps and helping Gabriel Jesus up front. Tite is under pressure for his conservative approach since he picked a squad filled with veterans, which signaled his desperation to win.
Scaloni has made changes to his inexperienced team for every Copa America match, and is under pressure to be more conservative against Brazil by ending its effective offensive trio of Messi, Lautaro Martinez and Sergio Aguero. The latter two could be replaced by winger Angel di Maria, who has performed well in roles that include defending, or midfielder Giovani Lo Celso.
Brazil’s and Argentina’s Copa America campaigns have been far from impressive.
The hosts have two victories and two draws, advancing to the semifinals only after a penalty shootout win against Paraguay following a goal-less first 90. The team was booed by fans in three of the four matches, and misses the injured Neymar to break stronger defensive lines.
Argentina comfortably beat Venezuela 2-0 in the quarterfinals in its best performance so far, but it started with a defeat by the same score against Colombia, drew Paraguay in a match which almost sent it crashing out of the tournament, and won against Qatar 2-0 to advance to the knockout stage. In none of those matches did Messi deliver a Barcelona-like performance.
Recent history puts Brazil slightly favored for their clash.
The last time they faced off at Mineirao Stadium in November 2016, Brazil won 3-0 in 2018 World Cup qualifying. Since then, Tite has kept his job, and Argentina has had three coaches; Edgardo Bauza, Jorge Sampaoli, and Scaloni, on an interim basis.
The last time Brazil lost to Argentina at home was in April 1998 in a friendly before the World Cup in France. Striker Claudio Lopez scored at Maracana Stadium.
Messi, who admittedly is not playing well at Copa America, has also struggled in most of the superclasicos. In nine matches between the two South American soccer powers, the superstar has lost five and won three, all those in friendlies against below-strength Brazil lineups.
The last great performance by Messi against Brazil was in July 2012, when he scored a hat trick in a 4-3 win on U.S. soil.
Before the tournament, he said Argentina was “not a candidate” for the Copa title. In recent days, he’s changed his mind.
“What matters is that we are in the semifinals, and matches have been very tight at this Copa America,” Messi said after the win against Venezuela.
Brazil will count again on Richarlison as an option on the bench. The striker was isolated for days in Porto Alegre because of mumps, which made him miss the quarterfinal match against Paraguay. He has rejoined his teammates in Belo Horizonte.
Trump, who during a glorified public-relations event at the White House quipped at a reporter that Brazil “had a little problem last time,” was swiftly reminded of Brazil’s five world title when Tite was questioned about the American president’s joke during a press conference on Monday. It is the standard response anyone would receive from any Brazilian — yes, including even the national team coach — upon making a defamatory comment about the Selecao.
One can only assume that the “little problem last time” is a reference to this summer’s World Cup, when Tite’s side was knocked out by Belgium in the quarterfinals, to which anyone who has watched a second of soccer in the last 11 months would respond, “How did the U.S. men’s national team do?”
Speaking about Neymar, who — at the age of 26 — is suddenly closing in on Pele’s record of 77 goals for Brazil, Tite backed his superstar and firmly supported the idea that he deserves everything he achieves — quotes from Goal.com:
“All these records are important. I believe the athlete seeks this within the context. But also have that recognition. Having recognition is not a sin, growing up is no sin, be star is not a sin, have technical skills is not a sin. …
“Neymar has important and extraordinary records. And he also has a solidarity side that he will gradually show.”
Brazil coach Tite named a very strong starting lineup, with the likes of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, and Casemiro. That was always going to be a struggle, and it was, but the United States was far from run off the field in East Rutherford on Friday night as they fell 2-0 to the World Cup quarterfinalists in an international friendly meeting.
The United States came out of the opening whistle with a very high press, and it seemed to trouble the Brazilians from the start, but the visitors began to figure things out and struck in the 11th minute. Douglas Costa straight burned Antonee Robinson who over-committed on the flank, and his cross found Roberto Firmino at the back post who had drifted back from an oblivious Matt Miazga. Brazil nearly grabbed a second as Costa again torched Robinson, this time cutting inside, but his ball into the box was fumbled at the penalty spot for Neymar.
The US had its best chance down the other end on the half-hour mark as Yedlin crossed to Weston McKennie, but his promising shot was blocked. The ensuing corner resulted in a header by Miazga on a delicious cross from Julian Green, and again it went out for a corner. Again McKennie had a massive chance, but Alisson came off his line to smother the shot from the far post. A fourth corner again came sizzling in, but Wood couldn’t get his head to it and instead found himself shaken up on the turf.
Again Brazil almost had a second, but a Coutinho shot from the top of the box was blocked bravely by Robinson and Zack Steffen saved the follow-up from Fabinho. They would double the lead before the break when Fabinho went down softly in the penalty area trying to squeeze between John Brooks and Wil Trapp, and the referee pointed to the spot. Neymar sent Steffen the wrong way for his 53rd international goal. At the break, Brazil had most of the possession while the United States was left with little to savor.
With no substitutions for either side at halftime, Brazil came out of the break with the intent. Douglas Costa toasted Paul Arriola down the right, and nearly found Firmino but his poor first touch killed off the chance. Yet again, Costa beat Robinson on 52 minutes – this time through the middle – and fed a delicious pass to Neymar, but his shot was slowed by Steffen and eventually cleared off the line by Matt Miazga right on the doorstep.
Sarachan brought on Timothy Weah and Kellyn Acosta for Paul Arriola and Julian Green as the game neared the hour mark, a positive substitution. Tite countered with the addition of Arthur for Manchester United midfielder Fred, while Douglas Costa was removed for Chelsea winger Willian. McKennie had a chance to put the U.S. on the board soon after, but he put his effort just wide on the end of a curling free-kick.
Another change for either side saw Gyasi Zardes replace Bobby Wood, while Paqueta made his international debut for Brazil replacing Coutinho. The U.S. nearly found an opening as Wil Trapp forced a shaky save from Alisson with a long-distance shot low and to the left. Down the other end, Robinson picked Firmino’s pocket to save a breakaway opportunity. The U.S. again had a chance on a set-piece with 15 minutes to go, but Alisson stopped a weak effort as two U.S. players came together for the shot.
With three minutes remaining, the U.S. had one last chance as Tyler Adams sent a cross in that went just over the head of Gyasi Zardes, while substitute Christian Roldan had his follow-up cutback cleared away. The loss is just the second for the United States in seven matches since the failure in Trinidad & Tobago, and will provide Dave Sarachan and the rest of the coaching staff plenty of tape to teach the players how to match up against the best in the world.
Following a disappointing 2018 World Cup campaign that saw title favorites Brazil knocked out in the quarterfinals by Belgium, the Selecao has a new permanent captain.
It’s 26-year-old superstar Neymar. He says he’s earned it because he has grown as a player and a person.
“I accepted [the captaincy] again because I’ve learned a lot and I will learn much more, and this responsibility will be a good thing for me,” Neymar said at a press conference yesterday.
Head coach Tite named the Santos product permanent captain after using a rotation at the World Cup, with veterans Thiago Silva, Miranda and Marcelo all given the opportunity to wear the armband. Neymar refers to “again” because he served as captain during the country’s gold medal journey at the 2016 Olympics. He relinquished his captaincy after the tournament, saying he told Tite he did not wish to be captain, but did not state why.
Now, he returns to the leadership role. However, Neymar knows that he must continue to prove his worth on the pitch because that is ultimately what matters. “My responsibility is even bigger now due to the captaincy but if you don’t play [good] football there’s no need of it.”
The PSG attacker came into the World Cup as a worldwide superstar in European soccer, but also carrying a reputation for theatrics on the field, and he did himself no favors with his World Cup performance. He was often found rolling around on the pitch looking to earn fouls. He was the most-fouled player in the tournament at the time his country was eliminated, and teams seemed to purposely hack Neymar as a strategy for slowing Brazil’s attack.
Neymar’s first match in charge will be tonight’s friendly against the United States at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.
With the Round of 16 complete, Brazil is one of the few favorites in the 2018 World Cup to have earned that nomenclature thus far. Germany slumped out in the group stage, Spain looked lost without its manager and bowed out in the Round of 16, and France still seems yet to put together a truly complete performance.
Now, staring down a quarterfinal date with Belgium’s “Golden Generation” on Saturday, Brazil faces its first true test. Manager Tite has yet to find himself truly challenged tactically over his two-year tenure with the national team, breezing through CONMEBOL qualification in a South American confederation that appears weaker than usual given its combined performance in the World Cup thus far.
Brazil sailed through qualification with a week one loss the only blemish along entire way, and to this point in the big dance they’ve done enough to push by Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia, and Mexico with few truly shaky moments. Now, Tite finds himself tasked with halting the seductively free-flowing Belgian attack that has multiple strengths with which to threaten an opposition.
In a vacuum, Tite wouldn’t have much to think about, his first-choice Brazilian side built well to handle an attacking juggernaut like Belgium. However, the numerous circumstances surrounding Saturday’s quarterfinal make this an exceedingly difficult prospect for Tite – his first truly mountainous trial.
The biggest concern Tite must to overcome is the loss of central midfielder Casemiro to yellow card suspension. The World Cup’s excessively strict yellow card policy sees players who accumulate a second caution before the semifinal suspended for the subsequent match, and thanks to Casemiro’s booking in the 59th minute of the 2-0 win over Mexico for a foul on Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Brazil is without the Real Madrid rock.
Casemiro is essential to Brazil’s structure and shape, and protects a back line better than any number 6 in the world. His performance against Mexico was as stout as any, but it’s not a good illustration of his true abilities given how Mexico intentionally targeted Brazil’s flanks as their preferred outlet of attack. Instead, one should look to Brazil’s comfortable 2-0 win over Serbia to discover Casemiro’s true worth. Against the big, physical presence of Serbia’s attack, Casemiro was vital in preventing them from circulating through the middle. The 26-year-old completed six of eight tackles attempted, contributed four clearances, recovered nine balls, and went toe-to-toe with Serbia’s exceptionally physical presence winning three of his seven defensive aerial duels. He effectively forced Serbia’s attack out wide, where they are not nearly as dangerous. Below is their attacking dashboard, where you can see the void in the middle as opposed to the traffic out wide.
As you can see, they were completely neutralized in the center of the pitch. With this in mind, Serbia was forced to take a mammoth 26 crosses, of which they successfully connected on just four.
Casemiro’s suspension will be a massive loss for Brazil against Belgium’s impressive attacking assualt. In the Red Devils’ 5-2 demolition of promising African nation Tunisia, they were relentless down the middle. Roberto Martinez has Kevin De Bruyne playing in a deeper midfield role with Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens ahead of him in the attacking midfield, and the Manchester City playmaker has been able to marshal the Belgian buildup from deep. Against Tunisia he created five chances and was given free reign through the middle of the field to control the pace of play. That ultimately saw Belgium’s attack bask in plenty of sunlight through the central areas.
With this in mind, Tite will be forced to counter the loss of Casemiro. With Paulinho deployed next to Casemiro thus far throughout the World Cup, it’s unlikely Tite would want to leave him on an island against Belgium. The most likely scenario is the addition of Fernandinho in Casemiro’s place, with the Manchester City holding midfielder a fitting selection to deputize against his Belgian club teammate with the Premier League title winners. Fernandinho was fabulous last season for his club, a big reason why Manchester City was able to win a championship in record-setting fashion. He was the 12th best player in the Premier League last season according to Squawka Statistics as he executed Pep Guardiola‘s tactics to perfection. However, the biggest weakness for Fernandinho is his defensive ability, with the 25-year-old making 5.3 defensive contributions (tackles, interceptions, clearances, blocks) per 90 minutes in the Premier League last season compared to Casemiro’s 9.1 in La Liga play.
Instead of Fernandinho, we could see the likes of new Manchester United signing Fred or veteran Renauto Augusto if Tite wants to be more aggressive, which may be a preferable tactical choice given Belgium’s weak defensive midfield that Japan exploited in the first half of their Round of 16 meeting, before Roberto Martinez shored things up with the introduction of Marouane Fellaini.
Another conundrum Tite must solve is the looming question up front: what to do with Gabriel Jesus. The 21-year-old attacker impressed in his first season in England, but has proven underwhelming in Russia this summer. He has been upstaged by Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino late in World Cup games, most recently watching from the bench as Firmino iced the Mexico game with a late goal. There are calls to replace Jesus with a more centrally inclined striker like Firmino in the starting lineup, and it is Tite’s job to deduce whether Firmino is a fitting replacement for Jesus from the get-go, or if his success is molded by his use as a late sub against tired legs. If his Champions League performances are any indication, Firmino is more than capable of causing problems for opposition defensive structure for an entire 90 minutes at a high level, and his World Cup performances seem to suggest he has a better understanding with Neymar than Jesus has shown.
Finally, Tite has issues to solve on the back line as well. Injuries have decimated the Brazilian full-back ranks, and while it appears those injured may be somewhat subsiding, there are still lingering questions. Danilo was reportedly fit for the Mexico game, but Tite stuck with understudy Fagner at right-back, who was subsequently torn to shreds by Carlos Vela early and Lozano as the game progressed. Vela created four chances throughout the match – three in the first half – while completing 13 of 16 pass attempts in the attacking third. Lozano, meanwhile, completed six of 10 take-ons including five of his first seven before Brazil’s pressure became too much for Mexico to handle. Meanwhile on the left flank, Filipe Luis was troubled by Mexico’s wide attack as well – although not to the extent of Fagner – and while Marcelo’s presence in the Brazilian lineup would seem a given if healthy, some believe Filipe Luis has performed well enough to keep his place in the eleven.
Brazil has passed every test to this point, but in a World Cup full of chaos and upsets, Tite cannot afford to underestimate any personnel choice or tactical decision, no matter how small. His conclusions over the next few days will shape the 2018 World Cup’s first true heavyweight bout.