Tristeza não tem fim.
Two games without a win.*
Brazil 2-2 Paraguay
First things first; Paraguay were never going to be easy opponents for the seleção. Brazil's neighbours are South America's resident awkward customers, frequently posing problems for the putative giants of the continent. Solid in defence, and with a number of potent attacking threats, La Albirroja entered the Copa América confident of building upon their promising displays in South Africa last summer. A stalemate in their tournament opener against Ecuador, however, placed added pressure on Gerardo Martino's men ahead of their clash with Brazil.
They needn't have worried. The seleção turned in another disappointing performance, and needed a late strike from Fred to rescue a point. As I (and many others) predicted, Mano Menezes left Robinho out of his starting eleven, preferring another midfielder in a withdrawn role on the right. Contrary to expectations, however, it was Jádson - rather than Elano - who got the nod in Córdoba. That decision, although provoking the ire of many Brazil fans, was vindicated late in the first half; the Shakhtar Donetsk man opened the scoring with a low shot from distance.
Until that point, Brazil had flattered to deceive. A minor reshuffle in the centre of the park (Lucas Leiva operated to the left of Ramires, rather than on the right) made little difference to the fluency of the side, and Neymar produced the kind of insipid performance that will provide his myriad suitors with plenty of food for thought. The presence of Jádson alongside Ganso, however, did (on occasion) lend Brazil more of an attacking threat. The two combined neatly early on to create an excellent chance for Alexandre Pato, only for the Milan striker to be denied by Justo Villar. Unfortunately, that promising axis was to be broken at half time; Elano replaced Jádson, who was running a disciplinary tightrope after picking up a yellow card.
Defensively, Brazil looked more shaky than usual. They were given a warning in the opening minutes of the match, when a poorly executed offside trap gifted a golden opportunity to Roque Santa Cruz. The experienced forward didn't hit the target on that occasion, but made amends after the interval, turning home coolly after Brazil's backline had been dragged out of position. Paraguay added a second not long after; Daniel Alves (who struggled throughout the match) dallied on the ball inside his own area, allowing Marcelo Estigarribia and Santa Cruz to tee up Nelson Haedo Valdez. The substitute saw his shot blocked by Lúcio, only for the ball to ricochet off his body and into the corner of the net. Some guys have all the luck.
With his side needing a goal, Menezes restructured his attack; Lucas Moura came on for Ramires (meaning Elano dropped yet deeper), and Neymar was withdrawn for Fred, a more orthodox striker. Those changes, allied with a growing sense of desperation, seemed to spur Brazil on. With just two minutes left on the clock, Fred seized upon Ganso's hopeful flick and arrowed a volley into the bottom corner of Villar's net. The opportunistic nature of the goal hinted at what Brazil have been missing in their two Copa América games thus far; a genuine presence in the penalty area. Fred may not be everybody's cup of tea, but his physicality and positional sense could make him an invaluable option in the coming games.
So what next for the seleção? It seems fairly clear that the upcoming clash with Ecuador is a make or break moment for Menezes; victory (and progress to the knockout stages) could draw a line under this week's shortcomings, whilst anything less would surely make the 49-year-old's position all but untenable. Tactically, Mano must decide whether to stick to his guns, maintaining Pato as a nominal reference in attack, or bite the bullet and select a more traditional (read; Fred-shaped) focal point. With the pressure mounting, Menezes may be forced, like many of his recent predecessors, to abandon o jogo bonito in favour of a more pragmatic approach. More's the pity.
*Lyrics; 75% Vinicius de Moraes, 25% SKP.
(Photo credits; (1) Danilo Verpa, (2) Marcelo Sayão.)