Internacional – Athletico Paranaense: Adaptable Defense Is The Key For Paranaense’s First Copa Do Brasil Win (1-2; 1-3 On Aggregate)
Transitional defending, covering passing lanes and a compact team shape proved vital as Athletico Paranaense won their first ever Copa do Brasil. Internacional controlled the ball, put their poor passing structure and overcommitment towards the end of the game resulted in the hosts looking vulnerable on the break.
Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker.
The 30th edition of the Copa do Brasil final featured two clubs who have had very little success in the competition’s history. Internacional were one of the first clubs to lift the trophy in 1992 but had only seen one final since then. Despite the success Internacional saw in the late 2000’s – two Copa Libertadores victories, developing the likes of Alexandre Pato, Luiz Adriano and Sandro during that time – it was up to Odair Hellmann to break their eight-year trophy drought.
Athletico Paranaense had knocked out both Flamengo and Grêmio to reach their first ever Copa do Brasil final. In both the quarter-finals and semi-finals they needed a penalty shootout, but Paranaense came back in both matches to reach the final.
Tiago Nunes’s team already had the upper hand going into the second leg, having beaten Internacional 1-0 at home, dominating possession in a match which could have gone either way. Both managers opted for their usual formations, Hellmann starting Internacional in a 4-3-3 formation, whilst Tiago Nunes stuck to his 4-1-4-1 system.
Bad shape versus adaptable defending
A goal behind on aggregate, Internacional were on the front foot right from the first whistle and they would test the goalkeeper within the opening minutes. Paolo Guerrero flicked the ball over the Paranaense defense with a header, into the path of Nicolás López, who had made an effective inverted run from the right side to the left. Santos held his position and closed the angle down for the winger, before making the save to deny an early goal.
After a cagey start to the match, Internacional took control of the ball, whilst Athletico Paranaense established an adaptable defensive system. Setting up in a 4-4-2 shape, Paranaense would cover passing lanes, which would limit Rodrigo Lindoso in the pivot. When possession was in their own half, the visitors would drop back into a 4-4-1-1 shape, which not only made the middle of the pitch compact but would enable them to put more players out on the flanks when needed.
Athletico Paranaense had positional superiority off the ball, Lindoso had limited passing options forward.
Internacional’s ball progression was affected by Athletico’s organized and compact defense, but the positions of their midfielders made things harder from themselves. Lindoso was given little options to play forward, with Edenilson positioned near his own fullback and Patrick pushing up near to the frontline.
Odair Hellmann’s team controlled the ball from the start, but the ball would sit in defensive and middle thirds, before a long ball towards Guerrero would be cleared or tackled on the knockdowns. Though Internacional were constantly on the attack, Paranaense were more than capable of handling the pressure.
The role of Leo Cittadini
Leo Cittadini was crucial in their defensive system, constantly roaming between the forward and midfield lines depending on the position of the ball. If Internacional would attempt to play the ball from the back, he would be alongside Marco Ruben and cover passing options. If the hosts were in Paranaense’s half, Cittadini would roam between flanks, just in front of their staggered midfield line.
When a turnover was made, Paranaense would look to him to take the ball and carry it forward, relieving pressure. Cittadini won several free kicks in the process. Athletico Paranaense’s attacks would come from fast counterattacks, exposing Internacional when they overcommit forward.
It would be Tiago Nunes’s team to strike first, with a fast transition forward to open up Internacional. Receiving a long ball from Santos, Rony shielded the ball and sprinted away from his marker, into the space left behind him. Marco Ruben made an important run from the center towards the left flank, dragging both center-backs with him. As space opened up in the center of the pitch, Ruben cut the ball back into the danger zone. Cittadini took a touch, before putting Paranaense two goals in front on aggregate.
Internacional respond before changing formation
Seven minutes after the visitors opened the scoring, Internacional equalized in the scrappiest of fashions. The initial corner was cleared by Paranaense, but the second phase would see the ball bounce around the area. Guerrero’s shot was flicked on by Lindoso, hitting the crossbar. However, Nicolás López was just a few yards in front of goal to tap it in.
With two goals needed to take the trophy, Hellmann gambled, making two changes in the opening stage of the second half. Patrick was replaced by striker Rafael Sóbis, whilst Bruno was swapped for Nonato. Hellmann changed his formation, from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 shape, with Sóbis just behind the striker, Edenilson at right back and Nonato next to Lindoso.
Hellmann switched Internacional into a 4-2-3-1 formation, Paranaense still had superiority, despite dropping deeper.
Nonato made several runs off the ball, from deep into the attacking third. This would enable the Internacional backline to have a progressive passing option, however, once he made these runs, they were still left with not many options forward. Sóbis was more effective in his role but he would have to drop deeper to receive possession, therefore not producing much in the final third.
Hellmann was right to make changes, however Internacional still struggled to create effective opportunities.
Paranaense finish the match in style
Having held their defensive setup, Paranaense had not recorded a shot for fifty minutes since they had scored. With Internacional committing more players forward, Paranaense looked more threatening on the break, with acres of space for them to run in.
Rony produced a fabulous cross into the penalty area, substitute Marcelo Cirino’s header trickling wide of the far post. With the clock running down, Paranaense spent time with some vintage timewasting, whether that would be wasting time taking a free kick or playing a short corner, holding it by the corner flag.
Athletico Paranaense finished the game off in fantastic fashion, Marcelo Cirino producing one of the filthiest nutmegs – or caneta as they would say in Brazil – on Edenilson in the buildup. He feinted past Lindoso, put the ball into the area before Rony scored a famous goal in Paranaense’s 95-year history. Their first ever Copa do Brasil, and what a way to win it!
Higher up in the table, as well as beating Athletico Paranaense the last four times they had come to Estádio Beira-Rio, Internacional will be left bitterly disappointed they did not produce a comeback here. The unusual way they had positioned their midfielders, badly affected their ball progression, their frontline had received the ball but not in the right positions. However, the season is far from over, they are still in a Copa Libertadores spot and the recent form produced by Palmeiras and Santos means that higher positions are still available.
Over the course of the two legs, Athletico Paranaense thoroughly deserved their triumph. The result means that they will play in the Copa Libertadores, regardless of league position, a huge achievement considering their current league position and their exit to Boca Juniors back in July. A fantastic result for the Curitiba club.
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