Brazil – South Korea: First-Half Demolition Gets The Samba In Full Swing (4-1)

Brazil had effectively tiptoed through the Group Stages, but it wasn’t without tactical tinkering from Tite to get them through, in the second half of their matches. We were yet to see the Samba at full throttle. But that was about to change.

Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker.

When Brazil travelled to Asia back in June, no notion was given as to who the opponents were. Advertisements on the electronic billboards were in Portuguese, whilst “Brasil Global Tour” transitioned between the live feed and the latest highlight. Only the scoreboard on the corner and the closeups of the kit reminded you that it was South Korea.

A heavy 5-1 defeat must’ve dampened spirits further, South Korea was treated as a second-class international team, which has made their qualification for the knockouts even more momentous. Korea qualified against a rotated Portuguese team and the fact Uruguay did not score another goal to overcome Ghana. Paulo Bento aligned his team in a narrow setup which struggled to assert itself, especially out wide but banked on a transitional plan that got them over the line in stoppage time.

In their final group game, It was a heavily rotated team for Brazil too. That being said, a Brazil second team still bares more quality than most and their defeat against Cameroon had them in more possession than their other games. Nevertheless, this was more about resting and giving injured players more time, with Neymar and Danilo not featuring since the first game.

Both of those players would return to the frame, as Tite returned to a very familiar Brazil squad. With left-back options limited, Danilo would make his return in the left-back position and Éder Militão started at right-back. Lucas Paquetá was the choice next to Casemiro in the midfield, but there has been a hit to the depth in the defense and striker positions. Alex Telles and Gabriel Jesus have been ruled out for the rest of the tournament.

Napoli center-back Min-jae Kim returned to the South Korean line-up, assembled in the 4-4-2 formation. There was no place for Kang-in Lee in midfield, as match-winner Hee-Chan Hwang started on the left of the midfield, with the captain Heung-min Son up front next to Gue-sung Cho.

Swallowing Korea whole

From early on, the asymmetric game plan started to play to great effect and Brazil picked through South Korea’s medium block with ease. Éder Militão operated in his deep right-back role, to join the center-backs as a back three and Danilo rotated from the full-back space into an inverted position, next to Casemiro in the center of the field.

Korea’s 4-4-2 medium block was missing a few key elements to success: the staggering between Heung-min Son and Gue-sung Cho was flat and unresponsive towards Casemiro or Danilo in their cover shadow, whilst In-Beom Hwang and Wo-Young Jung moved out towards the wider channels to support, without either of the center-midfield duo supporting each other vertically.

6th minute: Buildup to the first goal. Asymmetry was played into effect as the distance between the opposition block and far-sided center-back is much greater. South Korea was stretched vertically and poor shifting created space for Casemiro and Paquetá to combine in the halfspace, to get Raphinha behind the left-back.

Nevertheless, Korea’s center-midfield was stuck in a tactical dilemma that they failed to solve. In Brazil’s 3-2-5/assymetric 3-3-4 formation, Neymar and Paquetá moved from in-to-out and were able to create and overload the wider channels easily. It took just six minutes for these dynamics to take place: with Thiago Silva stepping up and Neymar dropping, Korea was tilted towards Brazil’s left side and Tite’s team switched the ball to the right. Raphinha slalomed infield, virtually taking out both Hwangs’, before Casemiro linked with Paquetá and back to Raphinha. His cutback ran past a crowded front post that left Vinícius Júnior free to take a touch and aim over the goalkeeper.

A more underrated factor of Brazil’s setup is the quality of long diagonals and switches that they can produce towards their isolated wingers. When orientated into a back three and overloads being built on the wider channels, not only was Korea tilted but more space was open for the man in possession, to take the time to aim. Such long balls can also be angled towards a halfspace attacker who had made an aggressive run in this channel, although not a successful pass, this pattern would be the groundwork for a rewarded penalty. Neymar dribbled in the second phase, an attempted cross from Vinícius was blocked and in the process of clearing, Woo-Young Jung brought Richarlison down. Neymar scored, two goals in twelve minutes.

Balanced Brazil with counterattacking freedom

Korea had spells of possession with very little substance, only on the left side could they relieve a little pressure. Hee-Chan Hwang had a spectacular attempt from range, which forced Alisson Becker into a save, but this was a half where Brazil brutalized their opponents further.

In the group stages, Brazil had been heavily tilted towards the left in a slow-tempo game. Brazil was ultimately more balanced and progressive in this structure, Neymar had phases where he would move around towards the ball side before he and Paquetá could work in proximity to retain possession. Huge spaces could be drawn between Korea’s midfield and defensive lines thanks to the pinning of Brazillian forwards, which became the playing field for Neymar and Paquetá to combine with Raphinha and Vinícius.

Brazil was able to apply pressure easily and such pressure paid off, once again before the half-hour mark. From the second phase of a corner, an attempted cross was cleared high into the sky from Young-Gwon Kim. Head juggling from Richarlison suckered in two Korean players, before Marquinhos and Thiago Silva, yes, the center-backs, perfectly combined in the final third. Richarlison let Marquinhos’ pass run through before Silva assisted the Tottenham striker from close range, a sensational build.

45th minute: Transition that highlighted South Korea’s pressing problems. Overloading on two center-midfielders gave them a dilemma, and ultimately, Neymar was given space to move laterally and create a three-versus-three on the counterattack.

From this point onwards, South Korea’s execution on the transition had aggravated to irreparable levels. With Moon-hwan Kim playing higher in their buildup, it was easy for Brazillian forwards to move into three-versus-three positions, Neymar and Paquetá carrying, whilst Raphinha and Vinícius moved more central into dangerous areas.

The buildup to the fourth goal came from Richarlison carrying the ball into acres of space against the defenders, with both the wingers more narrow but wide enough to keep them stretched. Vinícius dinked the ball into the area, behind a massively reactive Korean defense, for Paquetá to finish.

Such openness can also be seen within Korea’s press. In the 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 scheme, the ball-sided striker and winger attempted to double down on the fullbacks in possession. The same dilemma was forced upon the center-midfielders, with no coverage on Casemiro and space for Neymar to move into. Chances for Paquetá and Richarlison emerged from poor Korean high pressing being completely unravelled. A one-two from Paquetá and Raphinha got the West Ham midfielder behind Jin-su Kim, whilst Richarlison was able to carry the ball from the halfway line into the box, from a long pass hit into space. Ironically, Brazil didn’t have that many shots throughout their four goals but should have bagged more towards the first half’s conclusion.

Korea given time to lick their wounds

The battering of South Korea had already been completed, therefore the second half had dropped its intensity. Paulo Bento made two halftime substitutions, with Chul Hong and Jun-ho Son replacing Jin-su Kim at left-back, as well as Woo-Young Jung in the center midfield. In possession, Jun-ho Son played a lot closer to the center-backs in circulation, whilst Hee-Chan Hwang bounced between playing on the left or right wing.

Heung-min Son, like the rest of the Korean forwards, was given positional freedom to exchange and swap positions with one another but they failed to find their captain in his ideal position – at pace, behind the last line of defense.

Korea’s buildup shape varied between different formations, the 4-4-2 transitioned into a 4-3-3 system, with a split between Jun-ho Son and In-Beom Hwang, which gave room for Jae-Sung Lee or Heung-min Son to drop deep and make a midfield three. Nevertheless, Brazil could sit passively with no defensive issues, Korea was u-shaped and uncreative when they had the ball, and attempts to cross the ball in quickly failed to work without the Brazillian defensive line shifting.

60th minute: Korea’s passing problems. Spacing between the lines was bad, especially ball side, and Brazil could sit passively and still overload towards the ball.

Brazil still had threatening moments, Raphinha and Paquetá combined once again, which got the Barcelona forward into the penalty area. He faked with his left and right, but Seung-gyu Kim was forced into a good save. Another counterattack also created a good opportunity for Raphinha, who would arrive undetected in the area thanks to Richarlison’s presence. From a more acute angle, the keeper was tested but saved once again.

There was one occasion when an early Korean cross did create an opportunity, though this was made by an unforced error from Danilo. His heavy touch teed Hee-Chan Hwang, whose driven shot was saved by Alisson. However, there was time for one more goal and for Korea to receive some form of roses. An indirect free-kick was cleared, but only towards substitute Seung-Ho Paik. From distance, his left-footed half-volley was deflected but remained pleasing to the eye.


An incredibly ruthless display from Brazil, where key elements of their offensive work came into the fray: and at a very good time too. Tite has been likened to Carlo Ancelotti, but there are distinct patterns unique to this Brazil team too.

It is Croatia who awaits them in the quarter-finals, a game where more of this transitional work could arrive against a team that likes to keep the ball and in a very flexible midfield. That being said, expect a more reserved line-up from Tite, who is aware that Casemiro might not always have the security around him and has often deployed Fred, at the expense of Paquetá.

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Joel Parker (21) is an Everton fan. Whenever he’s not watching his beloved Everton, Joel spends his time analyzing all sorts of football. Chief editor and Founder of Toffee Analysis. [ View all posts ]


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