Moscow: Neymar inevitably grabbed the headlines and plaudits again after Brazil’s 2-0 World Cup win Monday over Mexico, but their real campaign heroes have been elsewhere.
Brazil’s defensive record under coach Tite has been remarkable, with only six goals conceded in 25 matches, and they have been just as miserly in Russia where they have only conceded one goal.
Their round-of-16 tie against Mexico was another object lesson in defending from the central pairing of Thiago Silva and Miranda, assisted by full-backs Fagner and Filipe Luis and given an extra layer of protection by Casemiro in midfield.
Strong, athletic and intelligent, they comfortably prevented Mexico from turning territorial domination into real chances. Every time a Mexican tried to get the byline, there was a well-timed tackle to stop him; every time they got into a good shooting position, there was a body in the way to block the shot.
One of the key differences since Tite took over two years ago has been that Brazil try to win the ball cleanly in midfield.
Under his predecessors, Dunga and Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil adopted a destructive form of tactical fouling with the aim simply to stop the opposition playing.
For Tite, on the other hand, a foul in midfield is a wasted chance to win back possession and start a new attack.
After his team beat Austria 3-0 in a warm-up friendly, Tite lauded his players for only conceding eight free kicks. Monday, they conceded even fewer — six.
“That shows that we use aggressive marking to try and win the ball and then come out playing,” Tite said.
Brazil are usually thought of as an attacking team but, in fact, they take very few risks. They have looked even more solid now that Filipe Luis, well-schooled in the art of marking under Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, has replaced the more cavalier Marcelo at left back.
There were plenty of other examples of Brazil’s defensive prowess to admire on Monday such as a superbly timed tackle by Fagner on Hirving Lozano in the second half.