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Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 01:00 GMT 02:00 UK
Belgium win unmasks Brazil
Brazil coach Lui Felipe Scolari lines up a row of wooden defenders
Scolari organises some wooden defenders in training
BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery

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Not since the opening game of the USA 94 campaign had Brazil beaten European opposition in a World Cup by more than a single goal.

Eight years separate the 2-0 triumphs over Russia and Belgium.

In between there were 10 matches against European teams, nine of them tight, the other the drubbing at the hands of France in the final four years ago.

Despite the two goal margin, the match against Belgium was one which unmasked the World Cup favourites.

As Brazil strolled through a virtual pre-season tournament in South Korea, many must have wondered why they had so many problems in qualification.

Now they know.

Take out the odd flash of individual brilliance, and the class of 2002 is eminently beatable.

Football has its own dynamic of development.

Open Quote
Central defenders spoiled by years of blanket protection, have lost the art of defending
Close Quote
Tim Vickery

The England team, for example, is made up of a generation who were inspired by the Italia 90 displays of Paul Gascoigne and company.

Meanwhile, the Brazilians are stuggling with some of the consequences of winning the 1994 World Cup.

Back then, Carlos Alberto Parreira's team were a solid, well-drilled unit who relied heavily on the individual skill of Romario and Bebeto.

Parreira achieved an admirable balance between attack and defence because the back line were so well protected by the central midfielders Dunga and Mauro Silva.

As a result of the 1994 win all Brazilian clubs adopted the same tactics.

They all placed two "guard dogs" to scare off the opposing strikers, but very few had the ability on the ball of Dunga and Mauro Silva.

Brazil's 1994 World Cup winning captain Dunga
Dunga the 'guard dog' protected a generation of central defenders

Rather than footballers, coaches started selecting athletes to carry out the role.

The results are clear; the midfielders have forgotten how to pass.

And central defenders spoiled by years of blanket protection, have lost the art of defending when left one-on-one against opposing strikers.

The weaknesses have become all the more apparent because Scolari has taken the bold - and much criticised - decision to move away from 4-4-2.

The thinking behind his three centre-back formation is that Brazil press opponents back, with the strikers working hard to regain possession of the ball close to the opposing goal.

In practise it hardly functions. Brazil seem incapable of maintaining their "blitz" marking for long and the opposition are usually able to play their way out of defence.

Open Quote
How much confidence do the Brazil team have in their own defensive system?
Close Quote
Tim Vickery

The Brazil team is then stretched out over the field. The limitations of their midfield and the confusion in their defence are made brutally obvious.

With the threat of England ahead of them, it will be fascinating to see how Scolari and his men react to the game against Belgium.

The country expected an easy victory, and instead witnessed what was practically a moral defeat.

"Saint" Marcos in goal was Brazil's best player, and when he was beaten the referee's whistle came to his rescue.

England would seem to carry more firepower than the Belgians.

So the question now is this - how much confidence do the Brazil team have in their own defensive system?


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