Neymar, Marcelo and Gabriel Jesus scored as Brazil beat Japan 3-1 in a friendly that kicked off at 1pm in Lille
It was the quirkiest of occasions. On a damp and slightly chilly lunchtime in northern France, Brazil started their countdown to the World Cup finals. It is anybody’s guess why the five-times champions kicked off at 1pm in Lille and for long spells the atmosphere at a half-empty stadium was quiet verging on eerie.
Never mind. Brazil sent the most eloquent of statements with a first-half battering, which featured a Neymar penalty, a Marcelo rocket and a lovely team goal finished by Gabriel Jesus. Neymar also missed a penalty and, for context, this was a Japan team who had not conceded a goal en route to ensuring their place in Russia next summer.
Brazil supporters are rarely slow in coming forward when it comes to the prospects of the Selecao and after the trauma of their World Cup in 2014, which was ended by what is simply known as The 7-1, they are convinced 2018 can be their year. The feeling is built on the momentum generated under the manager Tite, who replaced Dunga after six matches of the qualifying campaign.
At that point the nerves were jangling. Brazil had taken only nine points from the first six ties and they lagged sixth in the table. Under Tite, they took 32 points from an available 36 to qualify in impressive style – well ahead of the chasing pack.
It seemed as though Brazil could not be bothered in the second half. Japan pulled a goal back when Tomoaki Makino got in between Jemerson and the substitute Alex Sandro to head home Yosuke Ideguchi’s corner, and the substitute Kenyu Sugimoto had an 88th-minute header ruled out for offside.
Brazil were not immune to moments of sloppiness at the back but what most onlookers would have taken away was the purity of their football in the first half. It seemed a little ominous for Gareth Southgate and England, who play Brazil at Wembley on Tuesday. When Tite’s players turned it on, they were simply too good for Japan. Their collective fleet of foot was easy on the eye and they threatened to overwhelm their opponents before the interval.
The opening goal was bizarre and it chimed with the somewhat surreal atmosphere. After a corner had been cleared, the French referee, Benoît Bastien, marched over to the TV screen located behind an advertising board on halfway and began to scrutinise a replay.
The majority of those present wondered what he was doing. Bastien then pointed towards the penalty spot in the Japan area – which was some way away – and, having done so, he made the universally accepted gesture for television. Think charades and you are there.
The video assistant referee had struck. It was a mystery how he or she had been alerted as there had not been a noticeable protest after a Brazil corner had been cleared. But, after review, Bastien felt that Maya Yoshida had hauled down Fernandinho. He booked Yoshida. Neymar rolled home the penalty.
Neymar would have another opportunity from the spot on 16 minutes. This time, the award was more straightforward. Willian fired a break with a wonderful burst and when Brazil worked it to Gabriel inside the area, he made a move and was cleaned out by Makino.
Neymar repeated his routine – a stroll to the left, a run from a wide angle at the ball and a stutter. This time, Eiji Kawashima read his intentions, dived to his right and saved. No matter for Brazil. When the resulting corner was half-cleared, Marcelo strode on to the ball outside the area and fizzed a shot into the top of the net. What made it even more spectacular was that he did so with his weaker right foot.
Tite had started with a 4-3-3 formation, with Casemiro in front of the back four, flanked by Giuliano of Fenerbahce and Fernandinho. William and Neymar worked off the flanks in support of Gabriel. The scary thing for Japan and the rest of the World Cup qualifiers was that the manager had Philippe Coutinho, Douglas Costa and Roberto Firmino, among others, on the bench. Coutinho was never expected to come on because of a thigh problem.
Neymar’s performance was a mixed bag. He looked affronted whenever there was the hint of physical contact from a Japan player: don’t they know he is not allowed to be tackled? He fluffed a lob on 23 minutes and there was the moment in the second half when he tussled with Hiroki Sakai, became frustrated and cuffed him on the back of the head. Enter VAR again. After a delay, Bastien showed a yellow card to Neymar.
Yoshida rattled the crossbar with a free-kick before Brazil scored their third on 36 minutes to effectively end the contest. It was a beauty, showcasing their ability to be quick and penetrative when required. They changed up through the gears in the blink of an eye when Casemiro drove a first-time pass to the right with his instep and Willian touched on to the overlapping Danilo.
The full-back’s low cross was perfect and Gabriel tapped in at the far post for Brazil’s 13th victory in 16 games since Tite took charge in June 2016.Read more at theguardian.com