A year on from a bruising World Cup quarterfinal, Brazil and Colombia will lock horns once more on Wednesday in a an eagerly awaited and potentially crucial Copa America Group C encounter. For both countries, much has changed since Brazil triumphed 2-1 in Fortaleza thanks to David Luiz’s outrageous free-kick. And yet much remains the same.
Just four days after that victory, of course, Brazil suffered the worst defeat in the country’s history when being routed 7-1 by Germany on home soil. And since then the primary task has been to restore pride to the Seleção. Former coach Dunga was a surprise and largely unpopular replacement for Luiz Felipe Scolari, but so far the former no-thrills World Cup winning midfielder has delivered a perfect set of results.
After 10 victories from 10 friendly matches, Dunga’s competitive record in charge now stands at a perfect one victory from one game following a 2-1 success over Peru to start their Copa America on Sunday. With the likes of Fred, who became the unfortunate scapegoat for the World Cup disaster, now cast aside, Brazil showed some edginess in Temuco, but they also provided further signs that they will be far less fragile under Dunga’s leadership. And they ultimately prevailed thanks to a sensational pass from Neymar to set up substitute Douglas Costa in injury time.
It wasn’t a vintage performance, but that has never been Dunga’s focus. Either as a player or a coach, he has displayed little interest in winning friends -- it is all about simply winning. Such was the case in his first spell in charge, when in the 2007 Copa America Brazil overcame an opening defeat to Mexico to go on and beat a more talented Argentina team 3-0 in the final.
Yet issues from last year’s World Cup still demonstrably remain. Although Dunga has introduced Atlético Madrid’s Miranda into the center of defense, he has surprisingly done so at the expense of Thiago Silva. That means one of the prime architects of the Mineirazo, David Luiz, remains. And so does his propensity for calamity, as was emphatically demonstrated by a mix up that led to Peru’s opening goal after just three minutes.
At the other end there is still a huge reliance on Neymar. The Barcelona star has flourished since being handed the captaincy and not only created Brazil’s winning goal against Peru, but also scored the equalizer. With the functional Diego Tardelli in attack, supported by Fred -- not that one -- and Chelsea’s industrious Willian, almost everything good Brazil did came through the 23-year-old Neymar.
A year ago, Colombia attempted to quell the influence of Brazil’s main man by dishing out plenty of rough treatment. It was one such harsh challenge that led to the back injury that meant he missed the semifinal and sent his teammates spiraling into an over-the-top mental anguish that cost them so dear against Germany.
Colombia, of course, have their own superstar. And, as is the case with Brazil and Neymar, Los Cafeteros are hugely dependent on James Rodríguez. It was In Brazil last summer that Rodríguez became a global star, inspiring his country to its best ever World Cup finish and subsequently earning a big-money transfer to Real Madrid. He did so, though, following an injury that ruled out the country’s biggest name, Radamel Falcao. Seen at the time as a disaster, Falcao’s absence allowed Rodríguez to flourish at the heart of the team behind one central striker.
But now Falcao is back. While the 29-year-old had a hugely disappointing season on loan at Manchester United, Colombia coach José Pékerman has shown huge faith in him, even handing him the captain’s armband. But, while Pékerman has seemingly decided that Falcao will be in the team, he has also made it clear that he thinks the former Atlético Madrid man needs to play with a partner up front.
Against Venezuela, Falcao was joined by Sevilla’s in-form striker Carlos Bacca, but the pair offered precious little and Colombia slumped to a surprise defeat against their industrious and shrewd opponents. With little movement up front and a lack of passing quality behind him, Rodríguez struggled to make the impact Colombia require in order to flourish. In all, the side looked far less fluid than they did at the World Cup.
For Colombia, after an opening defeat, there is more pressing urgency, but for both Pékerman and Dunga the task is to maximize the impact of their key men while ensuring that they aren’t the only ones making a contribution.
Prediction: Neymar’s pace can certainly hurt a suspect Colombia defense, but Rodríguez could also flourish finding pockets of space in behind a Brazil midfield lacking a natural holding player. And Colombia’s greater need for a positive result could help them emerge with a point.
Predicted score: Brazil 1-1 Colombia