Battle of World Cup Hosts Ends in Draw
by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (March 25th 2013)
2002 World Cup winning coach, Luis Felipe Scolari, remains without a win since his return to the Samba Boys. Fabio Capello’s Russia gave the next hosts a fright. They had the best of the first twenty minutes and took the lead with 12 minutes remaining after an unseemly goal-mouth scramble. Aleksandr Kerzhakov and stand-in skipper Roman Shirokov had shots blocked by among others Chelsea’s David Luiz before Viktor Fayzulin lashed it past Luiz on the line to give Capello’s men the lead after 76 minutes.
However, Russia was unable to hold on for what would have been a confidence-boosting win – it’s Brasil after all. Zenit St. Petersburg paid Porto handsomely for the services of Hulk. The investment has yet to bear fruit, but Hulk gave his employers a timely reminder of his abilities with the assist for Fred’s injury time tap-in, although Hernanes’ exquisite reverse pass from the edge of the area gave Hulk the opportunity to tee Fred up for his fourth goal in as many matches.
“I’m disappointed,” Capello said. “If the supporter didn’t enter the pitch [the second one-man pitch invasion] I’m sure we win. When he entered the pitch we lost concentration. Against Brasil you can’t lose concentration, but I’m happy because we can do something really important for Russia. The target as people know is to play the World Cup.”
Scolari was incredulous at the explanation for conceding the equaliser. “When I was in Portugal playing against Estonia a beautiful girl ran on the pitch topless,” he said. “She was very beautiful. Even I was looking at her. We won the game 2-0.”
The warning signs were there early. After just 5 minutes Kerkhazov slipped free of PSG’s Thiago Silva for the first shot in anger, but it was blocked by Luiz. Moments later Queen’s park Rangers’ Julio Cesar turned Sergey Ignashevic’s free-kick round the post. Before long Kerkhazov had another highly presentable opportunity.
A corner won after Aleksandr Kokorin caught Barçelona’s Dani Alves resulted in Kerzhakov, who had a wretched Euro 2012, having the opportunity to open the scoring, but his effort went wide. Two minutes later he had another chance, but that was cleared on the line by Hernanes after good work by Vladimir Bystrov and the Kerkhazov had won the corner from which Kerkhazov’s chance came. “The team played really well,” Capello said. “The most important thing that I saw was the team spirit. This is important if you want to go forward.”
A Subtle Shift
Mid-way into the first half Brasil started to become more adventurous. “That team [Russia] was really organised,” Scolari said. “They mark, much much more highly than the Italians. In football it’s not necessarily the best team that wins.”
Neymar was left in no doubt what Fred though of his decision to shoot wide on 28 minutes while he was far better positioned. Fred didn’t have long to wait for a chance. A raking pass turned defence to attack. Marcelo fed Fred, although Vasiliy Berezutski ought to have prevented Fred getting his shot away.
Kerzhakov helped to set up Fayzulin after receiving the ball from him. Fayzulin was denied by a faint touch by Julio Cesar, but a goal-kick was given. As half time approached Neymar and Fred linked up well to reach the area, but instead of shooting or playing a simple return to the Santos man, Fred chose to back-heel it. Neymar had no chance and the back-heel ended up an embarrassing pass to the Russian keeper.
“Everybody knows there are no short cuts to success,” Scolari said. “You need to win in stages. [The] only way to success is to win in stages. I believe that we have the support and trust of the Brazilian fans. I believe for the Confederations’ Cup, we are going to have a strong group.”
Scolari Finds Positives
Kaka is having a torrid time in Spain. He has yet to display his AC Milan form for Real Madrid – he is far from a regular in José Mourinho’s team, but the Selecão is a different matter. “Kaka’s performance is what I would expect for this game,” Scolari said. “I told him and Marcello to keep an eye on the number 8 of Russia because he was dictating the play.” Kaka benefited from Thiago Silva’s defensive work. The former AC Milan stalwarts link up, but a well-timed tackle by Denis Glushakov ends the danger.
Scolari was full of praise for Real Madrid defender Marcelo Viera da Silva Júnior. “Marcelo was playing for the team,” Scolari said. “He was attacking when needed and defending when needed. Marcelo is the player who got into the team. Everybody else says Marcelo can’t defend. He was keeping his position and helping the team. I always thought he was a good defender and tonight he proved it.”
With an hour gone Neymar was fouled in shooting range. Luiz won the lottery to take it, but his effort was easily blocked. In microcosm it summed up a Brasil side that has yet to gel under Scolari. It was emphasised further after an excellent moved involving Oscar, Kaka, Hernanes and Neymar set up Marcelo to shoot with 24 minutes remaining.
Oscar’s pass was kept in play by Neymar who crossed for Kaka and Hernanes to work it back to Marcelo, whose shot was a tame effort that was easily saved by stand-in keeper Vladimir Gabulov deputising for Igor Akinfeev. “Gabulov played because Akinfeev had little, little problem,” Capello said. “I preferred Gabulov because it was friendly game and Akinfeev is not 100% fit.”
Moments later, Shirokov deputising as captain for the injured Igor Denisov hurt himself trying to dispossess Kaka. Shirokov required two minutes treatment. Meanwhile, Hulk replaced Oscar and Hernanes, who had impressed greatly up to that point, showed the unnecessary side of his game with a shove in the back of Dmitry Kombarov.
Former Chelsea player, Yuri Zhirkov now plies his trade for Anzhi Makhachkala. His match was restricted to a bizarre, at first glance, cameo. Zhirkov came on at the start of the second half, but was taken off after 87 minutes. Capello explained his thinking. “I told him I would play him in the second half,” the former England manager said. “I change the team because he was injured.”
The second ‘fan’ to evade security had an effect according to Capello, as Brasil avoided defeat with Fred’s injury time leveller. “When you play against top teams like Brasil you learn always a lot,” Capello said. “You learn the value of the team; you learn the value of the players. This is the most important thing for a manager. I want to learn different things.”
Meanwhile, Scolari thought it a useful exercise. “Towards the end of the game our team had a good reaction,” he said. “They kept their heads. I think we are on the right path. I don’t want to think about anything else but World Cup.”