SINGAPORE — Since they won the Copa America tournament in July, Brazil have played four friendly matches, including their encounter against Nigeria at the National Stadium on Sunday (13 October). They have not won any of them.
The 1-1 draw against the Super Eagles, coupled with last Thursday’s draw with Senegal of the same scoreline, will give plenty of consternation to head coach Tite, as he tries to build upon their triumph in the elite South American tournament.
And he will be having more headaches as superstar Neymar lasted merely 11 minutes before limping off with a hamstring injury, to the groans of another modest 20.385 crowd, a turnout similar to that of Thursday’s clash with Senegal.
No cutting edge for Brazil in final third
Again, the Selecao dominated possession, but could not find that cutting edge at the final third of the pitch, as Nigeria – as did Senegal – packed their defence and tried to hit the five-time World Cup winners on the counter-attack.
It was a simple plan, drilled to a high degree of effectiveness, as the Brazilians soon ran out of ideas and into cul-de-sacs of burly Nigeria defenders.
Still, they managed to fashion a couple of chances in the first half, the closest of which came in the 28th minute when midfielder Casemiro’s shot was cleared off the line by Joe Aribo, moments after Gabriel Jesus’ header was saved by goalkeeper Francis Uzoho.
Aribo plays for Scottish side Glasgow Rangers, managed by former Liverpool favourite Steven Gerrard, who had a knack for surging runs into the penalty box to score crucial goals for the Reds.
And Aribo must have learnt a trick or two from his club boss when, in the 35th minute, he charged into the box during a swift Nigeria counter-attack, and met Moses Simon’s cross with a thumping shot that gave Brazil goalkeeper Ederson no chance.
Early 2nd-half goal sparked revival
Fortunately for their stunned supporters, Brazil emerged for the second half a far more determined outfit, as they piled on the pressure on Nigeria. Within three minutes of the restart, their increased tempo paid off dividends.
From a corner from the right flank, defender Marquinhos leapt high to head the ball against the crossbar, but it dropped to Casemiro, who made no mistake this time from point-blank range.
The Real Madrid player was a standout with his powerful runs from midfield, as was a lively and inventive Philippe Coutinho, who replaced Neymar early on. Both came close to finding the winning goal for Brazil, but were thwarted by the crossbar and Uzoho’s replacement Maduka Okoye.
In the end, Nigeria’s German coach Gerhard Bohr could only be pleased with the outcome, considering that he chose a youthful side – with an average age of below 23 – in preparation for the start of their 2022 World Cup qualifiers next month.
“This will give my players a great sense of confidence, not being beaten by a great team like Brazil,” he said after the match. “I hope they can use their confidence to go on the attack more, when we face Benin and Lesotho next month.”
As for Brazil, coach Tite will be hoping their frontline can click into gear soon. Otherwise, the knives will be sharpened for his dismissal, even though he has already brought home the Copa America title.
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