05 July 2014

Visualized: Brazil 2-1 Colombia

As always, match data from Stats Zone, except average position locations from ESPN FC.

Build a funeral pyre, throw the long-dead corpse of Jogo Bonito upon it.

To be fair, that's been the case for some time now. Dunga's side at the last World Cup was the textbook definition of pragmatic, and it's not as if the winning side from either 1994 or 2002 were the football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters. But this seemed the final shovel of dirt on the burial plot.

Two Brazilian goals from set plays, the lone Colombian from the penalty spot. Four open play shots on-target combined, 10 open play chances created combined. All of 436 passes completed combined, out of 566 attempted. 79% pass accuracy for Brazil, 74% for Colombia. Which drops to 61.1% and 58.2% accuracy in the final third for Brazil and Colombia respectively. Those are Stoke totals. Not even Mark Hughes totals. Tony Pulis totals. "Just promoted from the Championship" Tony Pulis totals.

Oh, and 54 fouls. 54 painful, game-prolonging, this-feels-like-death-warmed-over fouls.

Regardless of the long-expired beautiful game narrative, to see a Brazilian side commit 31 fouls in a match with 54 fouls in total was disorienting. In the 57 previous matches at this World Cup, the average number of fouls committed per match was 28.7 – 28.5 in the group stage, 29.9 in the knockout round. The previous high in a single match was Netherlands-Australia, with 43 fouls. There have been 36 matches with fewer than 31 fouls in total.

And it was made infinitely worse by the Spanish referee, Carlos Velasco Carballo. You never want to see cards handed out indiscriminately, but the referee needed to take control of the match earlier. Four different Brazilian players managed to commit four or more fouls without being carded: Marcelo, Fred, Fernandinho and Hulk. And that's after Fernandinho managed to make it through the entire Round of 16 match without being carded, despite committing six fouls. Brazil is trying to win its record-extending sixth World Cup. Oh, and they're the home side, trying to make amends for 1950. It's almost as if referees are giving them free passes for some reason. I've no idea why. (*glares at FIFA, whose Executive Committee members are currently doing Scrooge McDuck-style dives in a bank vault full of money*)

When the yellows finally came, starting in the 64th minute, Thiago Silva's had to be given, for a moment of utter stupidity when challenging the keeper despite Ospina having possession. Then, Yepes and James each got a card, for their first fouls, both fairly innocuous (Luiz's goal came from James' "foul"), enough though Marcelo had committed five by that point, Fernandinho four, and Fred and Hulk three. And then, Julio Cesar's yellow should have been a red, taking out Bacca through on goal, which would have given Colombia that much more of an opportunity to level the score after James tallied the spot kick.

So, naturally, karma reared its ugly head, with Neymar brutally fouled in the final minutes – yet another incident which failed to provoke a yellow – and he's now out for the rest of the tournament with a fractured vertebrae.

It feels rude to add insult to injury, but you do reap what you sow, after all.

"We're being too nice, too cordial with our opponents," Scolari said after his team's round-of-16 win over Chile. "It's time we defended a little differently, to go back to my style, which is more aggressive."

That worked out well, huh? Ends, means, justification, etc.

A dismal referee performance fit with a match when football was only intermittently played.

There were only nine different pass combinations where the two players interchanged more than 10 passes: five for Brazil (Marcelo/Hulk, Marcelo/Neymar, Maicon/Oscar, Thiago Silva/Maicon, and Fernandinho/Marcelo) and four for Colombia (Armero/James, Guarin/James, Armero/Teo, and Guarin/Cuadrado).

And it was fitting that all three goals came from dead ball situations: a corner, a direct free kick, and a penalty.

As this is a usually a Liverpool blog, allow me a tenuous comparison. After last season, Liverpool fans will be well aware of the importance of set plays. When the attack isn't firing, when the match has devolved into mud wrestling, those situations can make all the difference. Newcastle at home, West Ham at home, Everton away, Hull at home, etc etc.

Brazil may not have been at their best, anywhere near their best, and this is assuredly not the best Brazil side we've seen in recent decades. But they were good enough to limit a side that scored freely in the group and Round of 16, by hook and by crook, and good enough to take advantage of their set plays. That's all that's needed in the knockout rounds of a World Cup.

Now let's see if they can do it without their two most important players, their best attacker and defender, the former for the rest of the tournament, the latter for the semi-final thanks to yellow card accumulation.

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