The Mano Menezes roadshow rolls on. Brazil's new coach and his young side chalked up their second triumph with a 3-0 win over Iran in Abu Dhabi Thursday. But though the margin of victory was greater than August's 2-0 win over the U.S., this was the tougher game -- and all the more fascinating for it.
Brazil's central idea was the same as for the debut match of Menezes against Bob Bradley's team -- a fluid, attacking game plan using a 4-2-3-1 system. Brazil's dangerous fullbacks, Daniel Alves and Andre Santos, were to be brought into play as elements of surprise, space created for them by good passing and movement. On the right, Robinho would drift infield and create a corridor for Alves to burst into. On the other flank Santos could choose his moment to break into the attacking line.
There were two major differences from the U.S. game, when Brazil's 2-0 win did scant justice to their superiority. Firstly, Iran played a 4-1-4-1 formation, as against the 4-4-2 of the USA, when Robinho's inside movement time and again gave Brazil the extra man in midfield and allowed them to work their passing movements. As Menezes commented at halftime, Iran's midfield anchorman, Nekounam, was able to sweep up the danger in front of his center backs.
Brazil, though, played into his hands with its team selection. Elegant young playmaker Paulo Henrique Ganso, impressive against the U.S., has picked up a long-term knee injury. His type of player was missing against Iran, especially in the first half. Behind striker Alexandre Pato, Brazil went with a line of Robinho, Carlos Eduardo and Philippe Coutinho -- all players who like to cut in from wide spaces, running with the ball. It is a hackneyed old phrase, but it will always apply -- the ball moves faster than the man. Without crisper midfield passing Brazil were not as impressive as they had been against the U.S. in terms of opening up the field and setting up two-against-one situations.
Menezes, though, had seen the problem, and the second-half introductions of Elias and Giuliano gave him extra numbers and better passing in midfield -- each of them helped set up a goal.
At the other end, Brazil have yet to concede under Menezes -- though Iran gave them many more alarms than the U.S. had done. Indeed, the Iranians seemed unfortunate to have an early strike ruled out for offside. In the second half they hit the woodwork and also squandered one of the clearest chances of the match.
Perhaps the biggest cause for concern was the performance of Benfica center back David Luiz, who had an uncertain time both on the ground and in the air. He starts from a relatively weak position because he is not well known by the Brazilian public -- he played briefly for Vitoria of Bahia before making an early move to Portugal, and so his vulnerability against Iran could be a problem for his long-term international ambitions. There will be no big outcry if he is dropped.
His lapses did not prove costly thanks to the covering of the excellent Thiago Silva, his center-back partner. The Milan defender had another top-class game. As recently as July, he was the young reserve to the old firm of Lucio and Juan, but already Silva looks like the rock around which Brazil's defense is built. His transformation from rookie to senior center back is perhaps the strongest illustration of the generational change that Menezes has made with the Brazil side.
The new coach stresses that the door is not closed on the players who went to the World Cup. Indeed one of them has already earned a recall -- striker Nilmar was not included in Menezes' first squads, but has forced his way back in as a result of his goal-scoring form with Villareal in Spain. He played the last 25 minutes against Iran and left an excellent impression -- being involved in the build up for the second goal, going close himself and then scoring the third in stoppage time. Only 26, he is another who in the blink of an eye has gone from promising youngster to grizzled veteran.
Might he be joined in future squads by the old guard, the likes of Julio Cesar, Maicon, Lucio, Juan, Elano, Kaka and Luis Fabiano? More than anything else, it depends on how the youngsters keep performing. The ball is in their court. The better they do, the harder it is to turn the clock back -- so there is plenty at stake when the Menezes roadshow rolls on once more, this time to England, where Brazil face an intriguing test against Ukraine in Derby County's Pride Park stadium on Monday.