Tite's search for a striker continues as Brazil draw another blank
Peru captain and centre-forward Paolo Guerrero decided not to play for his country in the recent friendlies because his club, Internacional of Brazil, feature in the final of the domestic cup.
And so he spent a frustrating night ploughing a lone furrow upfield as his side were beaten 1-0 in the first leg of the final away to Athletico Paranaense. He could instead have spent a glorious Tuesday night being part of the Peru side who beat Brazil 1-0 in Los Angeles.
The previous Friday, Brazil recovered from an awkward first half to take part in a splendid 2-2 draw with Colombia in Miami. Opposing coach, the vastly experienced Carlos Queiroz, described them afterwards as the best Brazil side of the last 15 years. Peru, meanwhile lost 1-0 in New Jersey to an inexperienced Ecuador team under a caretaker coach -- and not once in the 90 minutes did they seriously threaten a goal. How on earth, then, did they manage to beat Brazil just five days later?
Part of the explanation can be laid at the wondrous nature of football and its capacity to surprise. One of the most fascinating aspects of the sport is that the spoils do not always go to the better side. The wonderfully dignified Peru coach Ricardo Gareca commented after the game that his team had not really deserved to win, and that Brazil had the better chances.
The poor playing surface of the Los Angeles Coliseum also had an effect. The old truism -- that it is the same for both sides -- is not really true at all. In a low scoring game like football, defending is much easier than attacking. Often, one team is primarily interested in the former -- as was the case with Peru on Tuesday night -- and a bad pitch eases their task and complicates the team striving to take the initiative.
It is also true that Brazil were making a few experiments. Right-back and captain Dani Alves was rested and the team badly missed his attacking creativity -- the lack of a top class alternative is a concern. At centre-back, recent Real Madrid signing Eder Militao was given a game in place of Thiago Silva. Militao is seen as the long term bet for this position, but, beaten in the air too easily, he hardly distinguished himself when Peru scored the only goal.
In midfield, Allan did not have a good game deputising for Arthur, and Fabinho of Liverpool had problems when he came off the bench to replace Casemiro. Neymar, who has looked surprisingly sharp over the course of the international break, was also restricted to the last half hour.
Brazil, then, were not entirely at full strength. But they were close enough for this defeat to be a worry for coach Tite -- especially because it tends to reinforce a perception left lingering from the Copa America.
True, Brazil won the competition on merit. They were the better team in every game they played. But in the course of a six game campaign, they were twice held to goalless draws, and now they have failed to hit the target once more. All three times (against Venezuela, Paraguay and now Peru) they were up against opponents who were content to sit back and run the clock down.
Clearly missing from the current squad, if only as an option off the bench, is a genuine centre-forward. There has been a striking shortage of candidates in recent times. Tite may well be following the exploits of Joelinton and Wesley Moraes in the Premier League, because they may have something to offer. In part it is a question of gaining physical presence in the penalty area. But there is more to it than that. The team is currently set up with Roberto Firmino as the centre-forward. As he does so well for Liverpool, he is expected to drop and thread passes through for two runners from wide positions -- in this case Richarlison and David Neres.
This could easily have been enough to win the game on Tuesday. There were signs of an interesting link up between Firmino and Richarlison, for example. But there is also a trap -- that of being too vertical, of the ball always going straight forwards.
This, perhaps, is part of the nature of Richarlison. As Tite has recognised, he only faces one way -- towards the goal. It explains why he cuts in from wide rather than operating as a genuine centre-forward -- he lacks the back-to-goal game that is so useful for bringing others into the play.
Brazil had their moments in their forward charges -- as Peru coach Gareca acknowledged -- but there was not enough variety in their play. At their best under Tite, in the second half of 2016 and all through the following year, the unsung hero was midfielder Renato Augusto, who organised the play and, crucially, gave the team a change of rhythm, a sudden burst after a spell of patient passing. Injury hit and China-based, he has fallen out of contention and has not been properly replaced.
So there is plenty for Tite to think about as he considers the composition of his squad for next month's matches. In the meantime, he is probably glad that the match against Peru kicked off just after midnight back at home. By the time Peru scored their late goal it was nearly 2 a.m. -- too late for many of the Brazilian population to have been watching.