Amid the doubts of the upcoming Copa America, which has been shifted to Brazil and the rumours of head coach Tite’s resignation; Brazil faced Ecuador in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers at Porto Alegre. Brazil looked underwhelming at the start, still, picked the tempo when Tite brought changes. In the end, the Selecao did not drop any points like Argentina and Uruguay.

Tite decided to play two defensive midfielders at the centre of the park with Lucas Paqueta playing the solo role of a playmaker. The inclusion of Fred lessened the mobility and thus, the workload was heavier on Neymar, who has always been the target of the Ecuador markers.

The first 20 minutes witnessed nothing threatening at all from both sides with Brazil struggling to get the foot on the paddle.  Brazil countered by running a succession of set-plays down the right edge. The final touch for a productive finish was lacking despite leaving the lopsided Ecuador defence on the back foot.

A 35-yard free-kick from Neymar was lifted into the box – Richarlison might get a touch but either way the ball skittered dangerously out of the grasp of Dominguez.

Gabriel Barbosa aka Gabigol was positioned as the number nine after his brilliant display for Flamengo. He was trying hard to justify his selection and when he netted one at the stroke of half-time, the Flamengo star thought he had given Brazil the lead, but it was ruled out offside and that was it for him – he was substituted after spending more than one hour on the pitch.

Three missed chances and a goal disallowed – not the kind of night Gabigol wished for!

The first half ended with Brazil being over-dependent on possession-based football and below-par finishing.

Tactics had to be changed.

Richarlison was playing as the hit-man from the left and Neymar lying just behind him. Fred made the way for Gabriel Jesus and played outside right. Gabigol was playing the decoy.

The shape transformed into 4-2-4 and it started to click.

Neymar received the ball in the middle before laying it off for Richarlison, who cut inside and shot at goal. One such move resulted in a goal; Neymar received the ball near the byline and fed Richarlison, who slalomed his way inside the area and fired into the net.

The deadlock was broken.

Brazil were playing with more freedom.

Rigidity gave away to fluid football – the outcome was still not up to the mark.

In the dying moments, Neymar had the chance to double their advantage from the spot when Gabriel Jesus was brought down inside the area.

Neymar’s tame effort was stopped by Dominguez. But in a bizarre turn of circumstances, the referee asked Neymar to retake the penalty, as the Ecuador goalkeeper was off his line. He made no mistake this time, sending Dominguez the wrong way with a nonchalant chip.

Coming into this game, Ecuador had scored 13 goals in just four games, more than any other team in the qualifiers so far. They scored four against Uruguay and six against Colombia in an emphatic win last year.

At Porto Alegre, the Brazilian backline were solid and pressed the attackers that left the Ecuadorian attackers – Enner Valencia and Angel Mena isolated upfront.

Eder Militao was highly impressive – looked like a leader in the defence and leading by example.

Whenever the Tricolors attempted to break forward on the counter, Militao showed excellent positional awareness to nip the attack in the bud and also laid a couple of tidy passes too.

Militao worked well alongside Marquinhos and ran a taut ship. While most of the action transpired at the other end of the pitch, Militao’s performance went under the radar, as a matter of fact, he was the spine for Brazil.

Five wins in five matches for Brazil – one can say that it was a 50-50 display and the Selecao’s free-flowing nature would be much needed against the ragged backline of Paraguay.

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