Whisper it quietly, folks: an air of positivity seems to be slowly creeping back into the Brazilian national team set-up. It's hard not to smile, of course, when Ronaldinho whips home a trademark free-kick, but there were other positives to draw from Brazil's trip to Mexico. The seleção exhibited considerable willpower to recover from an early David Luiz own goal and Daniel Alves' red card, recording a win against a strong Mexican side.
Mexico 1-2 Brazil
With Júlio César and Fábio da Silva ruled out through injury, Mano Menezes handed starts to Botafogo goalkeeper Jefferson and Daniel Alves. Both would go on to have eventful evenings, albeit for wildly differing reasons. At leftback, Marcelo replaced Adriano, whilst there was a long-awaited start in attack for Hulk. The Porto star played more centrally than he tends to at club level, but gave a good account of himself in Torreón.
Those familiar with Mano Menezes' seleção will know that they never do things the easy way. So it proved on Tuesday night; Brazil went behind within ten minutes, in tragicomic fashion. West Ham United flop Pablo Barrera advanced on the right before drilling in a low cross towards nobody in particular. David Luiz, assuming that an attacker was closing in, lunged clumsily for the ball, and watched in horror as it spun off his studs and into the net.
The goal seemed to wake Brazil up. Neymar and Hulk began to show glimpses of real quality, and linked up to good effect throughout the half. The latter set up the seleção's best chance with a deft backheel, only for Neymar to blast wastefully over. Just as Brazil found their rhythm, though, disaster struck for the second time; Daniel Alves, who had already been booked, received his marching orders after bundling Javier Hernández over in the area. Thankfully for the visitors, Andrés Guardado struck his penalty poorly, allowing Jefferson to make a diving save.
Menezes erred on the side of caution after the interval, replacing the relatively quiet Lucas with Adriano. The Barcelona man acted as makeshift rightback, meaning that Brazil were a man lighter in attack. It showed. Neymar and Hulk, so lively in the first half, were well marshalled by the Mexican defence, leaving Ronaldinho - who attempted to dictate the play from the middle of the pitch - with precious few passing options. With time ticking away, it looked like being another night of frustration for the seleção.
Menezes' men, however, proved that they are made of sterner stuff. The equaliser came, somewhat predictably, from a dead ball. Ronaldinho - who has peppered opposition goalkeepers with free-kick efforts since returning to the national team set-up - slammed home a wonderful effort from 25 yards, beating Oswaldo Sánchez all ends up. It was the Flamengo star's first Brazil goal for four years, and was celebrated in the style of a man well aware that every strike at this level could be his last.
With the wind in their sails, the visitors pressed on in search of an improbable winner. It arrived in improbably glorious fashion. Just minutes remained when Marcelo darted in from the left flank, swapped passes with Neymar, and glanced up. With no Brazil player in the area, the Real Madrid player decided to go it alone, nipping between two defenders before crashing an emphatic drive into the roof of the net. His celebration - an impassioned hug with Menezes - suggested that their rocky relationship may have bloomed into something altogether more amicable. If Marcelo can translate his club form to the international arena on a frequent basis, he'll remain in Mano's good books for a while longer yet.
(Photo credits; (1) & (2) AP.)