Brazil – Paraguay: Solid Paraguay Defending Unrewarded As Brazil Sneak Through On Penalties (0-0, 4-3 After Pens)
With a 5-4-1 setup and very little pressing, Paraguay’s tactical intentions were clear from the start. A red card early in the second half led them to essentially parking the bus for the remainder of the match. The stern nature of their defense nullified much of Brazil’s attacking threat and it took a Gabriel Jesus winner in the penalty shootout to send the hosts through.
Tactical analysis and match report by Tom Quartly.
The Arena do Grêmio was the venue for this quarter-final between Brazil and Paraguay. Unseasonably hot temperatures had reduced the pitch to a bobbly, dry dustbowl as the Copa América hosts came into this one off the back of a 5-0 thrashing in their last game against Peru. Predictably, Tite lined up in the same 4-2-3-1 formation they had used all tournament.
The team also remained relatively unchanged, the only alteration coming via suspension, where Casemiro was replaced by rugged Napoli midfielder Allan; he would partner Arthur. The new look front four that saw Gabriel Jesus operate as a right winger, with Everton on the left, worked for Brazil, who had found the net eight times in the three group stage games.
Coutinho sat in the hole behind Roberto Firmino, who had comparatively struggled to find form so far. It would be interesting to see how the new man Allan managed to fit into this system. Often deployed as a carrilero A Carrilero is simply defined as a ‘water carrier’, someone that shuttles the ball from defense to more advanced midfielders or wingers. at club level, it was likely that he would be allowed greater freedom in this possession-hungry Brazil side.
Tite had said in his pre-match press conference that he expected Eduardo Berizzo’s Paraguay side to exploit the pitch conditions by using an ‘aggressive 4-4-1-1 formation’. He was wrong. Berizzo, who has been known to tinker with his formation based on opponents, instead opted for a defensive 5-4-1 shape. The back three of captain Gustavo Gómez, West Ham’s Fabián Balbuena and Junior Alonso was an untested partnership, but in theory, would provide significant cover for goalkeeper Roberto Fernández.
It would be up to Hernán Pérez, Derlis González and striker Miguel Almirón to muster chances against the experienced Brazil back line. This trio would most likely be limited to counterattacks, however, their menacing pace had the chance of troubling Brazil’s ageing fullbacks.
Brazil began in their standard 4-2-3-1 formation, continuing with Everton and Jesus on the wings. Paraguay lined up in a 5-4-1 shape.
Firm Paraguay concede few chances
Lining up with a flat five in defense consigned Berizzo’s side to a low block A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. for the entirety of the game, but it was effective in limiting the space for the Brazilian forwards around the penalty area. This is due in part to the high work rate of the Paraguayan players. Their willingness to surround the player on the ball with an increasing intensity and force them backwards was very successful in managing the amount of chances Brazil had.
However, before the defense were able to set up and get themselves into the game, there was a small window that the hosts were able to exploit. In the fourth minute, a clever ball around the corner from fan-favourite Everton split the back five in two. The marauding Dani Alves latched onto it and drove directly at Gustavo Gómez before laying off for Firmino. The Liverpool man could only find Fernández in the Paraguay goal.
Following this, Paraguay firmed up and defended well. Berizzo’s side were comfortable defending in their own area, allowing the Brazilian forwards to operate in the halfspaces, yet not allowing actual danger from these positions. The aforementioned closing down, as well as indecision in the final third, The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. meant that Brazil were unable to find a break through and were booed off by the Porto Alegre crowd for the third time in four matches.
Tite’s change and the kitchen sink
Coming into the second half, it was clear that Tite was going to persist with the 4-2-3-1 shape. Brazil had dominated possession but just couldn’t break down Paraguay’s defensive block. The only visible alteration was with Roberto Firmino. Firmino had been operating in his usual false nine role but as the second half began, he took up a higher position in an attempt to occupy one of the three central defenders.
Nine minutes into the second half, this slight change brought a chance. Rather than playing with his back to goal, Firmino chased a through pass, picking up the ball just outside the area and driving towards the goal. Across stepped Fabián Balbuena, whose clumsy challenge bundled the Brazilian to the ground. Referee Roberto Tobar consulted with the VAR before deciding the foul occurred outside of the area. A red card was shown to Balbuena.
Dani Alves drove the resulting free-kick low and wide of post, but Brazil now had the numerical advantage and were sure of finding an opener before the end of the game. They couldn’t.
Allan was deemed unnecessary as Paraguay began to form almost a back nine. Willian replaced him and Jesus joined Firmino up front. This was smart from Tite, as it was imperative that Brazil got more bodies in the box to match Paraguay’s defensive commitment. Moments after going up front, Jesus had a chance, but he was unable to convert from eight yards out.
The Brazilian boss then threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Paraguay as attacking midfielder Lucas Paquetá entered the fray, however it was Willian’s fierce left footed strike off the post that was the last true chance of the game.
Jesus the redeemer as Brazil scrape through
Penalties it was. Paraguay captain Gustavo Gómez was first to miss as his penalty was saved well by Alisson. Brazil looked comfortable until it was Roberto Firmino’s turn – his effort was struck wide. However, Derlis González went on to also miss and that meant it was now Gabriel Jesus’ job to send Brazil into the semi-finals of the Copa América.
He calmly slotted into the bottom left corner, sending the keeper the wrong way in the process. This was a big moment for Jesus, who had missed a penalty against Peru. “Today I did it in my usual way, I looked calmly at the keeper and side footed it the other way.” Calm as you like. Brazil were through.
It was heartbreak for Paraguay but there were certainly positive signs for Eduardo Berizzo to take into the future. The relatively young attacking line looked promising in the group stages but they were ultimately crushed under the pressure of South American giants Brazil. A team for the future, and let’s keep an eye on the style they display, as parking the bus was not exactly what Berizzo was known for in LaLiga.
Brazil were scraping their way through the Copa América and are sure to be found out if they meet a side like Argentina in the semi-finals. Despite clear technical quality, their inability to break down a low-block has almost cost them on numerous occasions. For now they are safe, but it will be interesting to see how they develop as they come into the crunch stages of the Copa América.
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