Let's cut to the chase; this was far from a classic. Brazil's first game in home soil in around three years turned out to be a damp squib, as they toiled to a 0-0 draw with World Cup nemeses Holland. A packed house at the Serra Dourada was audibly frustrated by the spectacle, booing the seleção off the pitch at the final whistle.
The return of Robinho to Brazil's starting lineup meant that Mano Menezes could return to his preferred three-man front line; the Milan man started on the right, with Fred central and Neymar drifting from the left. The shape in midfield was similar to that employed against Scotland in March; Lucas acted as a deep anchor, with Elano and Ramires slightly advanced to his right and left respectively. This 1-2 midfield triangle has been forced upon Menezes somewhat with Paulo Henrique Ganso's continuing injury problems; the lack of a truly creative force has meant that Ramires is used more offensively than he was in Menezes' first couple of games in charge. It is a role that he can't quite fulfil; despite producing the odd surging run, Ramires' lack of passing ability can impede Brazil's fluency.
Elano, in truth, fared no better; struggling to exert any influence against a competitive Dutch midfield. The shortcomings in the centre of the park meant that - as predicted - creative responsibility fell on the shoulders of Neymar and Robinho. The latter dropped slightly deeper, to no real effect; in fact, it was striking how little he and Daniel Alves combined down the right. Neymar was far more active on his flank, linking well with André Santos (a pleasing feature of Brazil's recent matches) and providing the penetration that his side so desperately needed. Fred, deprived of crosses, cut a lonely figure for much of the game.
In a dire opening period, it was Holland who created the better chances. Ibrahim Afellay brought two fine saves from Júlio César, and Robin Van Persie glanced wide with the goal beckoning. Brazil's best attacks were, unsurprisingly, instigated by Neymar; an excellent pass from the youngster allowed Robinho to tee up Ramires, only for the ensuing goal to be wrongly ruled out for offside. Opportunities were more plentiful for the hosts after the break; Tim Krul denied Neymar, Fred miscued from a decent position, and Thiago Silva's effort was deflected past the post. Mano Menezes threw on youngsters Leandro Damião and Lucas, hoping for a moment of inspiration. It didn't come. Instead, Brazil were reduced to ten men when Ramires picked up his second yellow card.
The performance, then, was one that will concern many fans of the seleção. The lack of imagination and technical ability in midfield meant that Brazil struggled to dictate the rhythm of the game; indeed, there was a period during the first half when they struggled to string together three consecutive passes. There were a couple of positives; Júlio César looked to be back to something resembling his best, whilst the central defensive pairing of Thiago Silva and Lúcio (who, incidentally, was making his 100th appearance in the yellow jersey) looked relatively solid. The feverish optimism which surrounded Menezes' first matches in charge, however, is now a distant memory. With the Copa América fast approaching, he seems to be increasingly reliant on the mercurial talents of Neymar to keep the public onside. It's an enormous weight to put on such young shoulders.
(Photo credits; (1) Jefferson Bernardes, (2) Ricardo Nogueira.)