This Is How Brazil Will Win The World Cup
3:52 PM EST on November 28, 2022
Two matches into the tournament, Brazil already has its proof of concept that it's playing strategy works. The team is like a boa constrictor. It squeezes and squeezes its opponent for the duration of the match, each passing minute only tightening its inescapable grip, until the moment when life fully drains from the opposition and Brazil can sink in its teeth and eat. It's not always flashy, and especially without the injured Neymar it's not particularly thrilling, but Brazil is as close to inevitable as it gets in this World Cup.
For all the justified focus on Brazil's unrivaled bevy of attacking stars, the Seleção is organized first and foremost around defensive solidity. The team plays with two titans at center back, two fullbacks instructed to play low and narrow to protect against counters and help maintain possessions, and the most defensively sound defensive midfielder in the world. And it's not only the defensive-minded players who aid on that front. Brazil's forwards and midfielders are hyenas when pressing, and arguably the strongest facet of this team, in both attacking and defensive senses, is its press's ability to recover the ball immediately after losing it. The Brazilian attack provides the team's fangs, but its the pressing and defending that apply the squeeze. And it's the squeeze that kills.
Monday's deceptively narrow 1–0 win over Switzerland was the latest example of Brazil's plan in action. There may have only been a single goal between the two teams, and that goal didn't come until the final stretch of the match, but at no point did anything other than a Brazilian victory seem to be in the cards.
The script Brazil aims to write every match is simple: from the outset, maintain positional discipline, keep it safe at the back, and send the forwards on unending waves of direct attacks; if the resulting vertigo overwhelms the other side and results in a goal, then keep it up; if not, gradually add the fullbacks and midfielders to the attack, and reinforce this by subbing on fresh attackers. The bet is on math. Give the forwards enough chances to fly down the pitch and make something happen, force enough high turnovers in dangerous positions, concede not a single good chance to the opponent's attack, play at a blurringly high pace that no other team can withstand, and eventually Brazil will get its goal(s) and keep its clean sheet and victory will be assured.
The Switzerland match played out almost exactly like that. The Swiss played a solid first half, which against Brazil means they stymied the Brazilian attacks and mounted a couple forays in the other direction that never really went anywhere. It was no matter. Brazil kept trying to bludgeon their way into a goal, and added some crucial craftiness to their bluntness with the introduction of Rodrygo and Bruno Guimarães, and the field tilted more and more in favor of the Canarinho as the second half wore on. Right as your might've started to wonder if perhaps Switzerland could hang onto a point, Brazil came up with the lock-picking move it had been waiting 83 minutes for: Vinícius sucked in a couple defenders and then breezed right past them, Rodrygo executed a sublime little outside-of-the-foot first-time pass, and Casemiro unleashed a literally perfect volley to give Brazil the lead.
If Brazil goes on to win the World Cup as they're favored to, it will be because of matches like this, matches in which Brazil is in total control. They dominate in every phase of play: with the ball, without the ball, in attack, in defense, in transition, and in both penalty areas. No other team in Qatar is as complete. Their defense is impregnable—they've yet to concede a single shot on target through two games. Their game plan is so effective that it can withstand the absence of the team's best player—and, adding Neymar (who is reportedly well on the mend and could recover even by the final group stage match against Cameroon) to the group only sharpens the team's fangs and adds a dose of venom that only makes them more dangerous.
Anything can happen in a short knockout tournament, where a single bad day can send you home. But if there's one team in this tournament who might just be immune to bad days, it's Brazil.