The two South American teams are through to the quarterfinals, keeping hopes alive for an all South American final that would be a wet dream for companies like Adidas, Nike and what not. And to this point the two players individually have been great. They’ve been the linchpin of two teams that have looked constipated for various reasons. Brazil’s problems goes more towards how Scolari has tailored his roster, something that I mentioned previously with Brazil but perhaps not strongly enough.
For the whole I was okay with how Brazil selected their 23 man squad. Repeat, I was okay with it. Not thrilled but okay. It’s understandable that a manager would select who he trusts over the volatility of the unknown and his selections mirrored the 2013 Confederations Cup, which Brazil had nice success playing a helter skelter athletic approach, something that wasn’t exactly the Joga Bonito of yesteryears but suited Scolari just fine.
Then again, you look at Brazil and wonder whether the dangers of the unknown would’ve been vital to a team that has frankly looked ordinary. Individuals like Lucas Moura, Coutinho, Miranda and Filipe Luis weren’t selected to the 23 man squad with continuity being Scolari’s selling point. Marcelo has looked bad for stretches, Luiz has been very Luiz-y in every sense of the word. Meanwhile Hulk until the round of 16 versus Chile was very poor, and Oscar for the most part has been the only midfield player that has played close to the potential of his capabilities. Combine all of this and it makes Neymar’s contributions so far even more remarkable.
Messi is in a similar boat in terms of outperforming relative to this teammates. He truthfully was very good four years ago in South Africa despite not scoring a goal. He’s scored 4 in this tournament and because of that, it’ll make what happened four years ago a distant memory (even though what he did then shouldn’t be labelled a disappointment). His team has quite frankly looked at times constipated, switching between formations, having lapses defensively (to be fair pretty much every team in this World Cup has had lapses defensively).
Both players have suffered from this, which has allowed opponents to implement defensive ideals that are reminiscent of the Jordan Rules. The Jordan Rules were an implementation of a defensive strategy by the Detroit Pistons in the late 1980’s to reduce Jordan’s impact on games. It was by far the most sophisticated defense seen back in that time, involving double teams from different angles. More than anything, it was a system that embodied the message “anyone but him”.
This hasn’t been a new development for Messi and Neymar, but Chile game provided the ultimate example of it versus Brazil:
Neymar by the end was knackered, tossed around like a doll through his diving and tackles from Chile. Messi hasn’t had to deal with the physical nature like Neymar did versus Chile, but he’s seen double man marking whenever he’s collected the ball near midfield. It’s something that has followed the two and will make their quarterfinal matchups even more interesting.
Neymar and Messi have given the people what they wanted: goals! Goals, goals and more goals. Messi has gotten the luck that abandoned him in South Africa while Neymar is holding the hopes of his home country in the palm of his hands. The dream final is still alive, though the teams to this point have been very unconvincing. But this world cup has taught us that expecting the unexpected is ultimately the smartest play.