Comfortable in the end, but Brazil were made to work in the first half
Just two weeks after their triumphant Copa América campaign on home soil, Brazil would commence on their path to Italia ’90. Opponents were Venezuela, so the first CONMEBOL qualifier ahead of next year’s World Cup would be played out in Caracas. The pair had met in the opening group stage game in South America’s continental championship, and the hosts had run out 3-1 winners on that occasion, with the fixture being staged in Salvador, Bahia. Incidentally, Venezuela’s goal to reduce the deficit, scored by attacking midfielder Carlos Maldonado, had been their first ever in an official international against Brazil. The game here in Caracas would be the two countries’ eighth meeting overall. It was a Sunday afternoon kick-off.
Venezuela team news
Venezuela had performed reasonably during the Copa América, and the bonus of a point, which they’d accumulated from their 1-1 draw with Peru, must have been a decent return for manager Carlos Moreno.
Now, 23 days since their final match in the continental championship, it was time to kick the World Cup qualification into action, although hopes were hardly high ahead of the meeting with one of the world’s footballing superpowers. However, Venezuela had battled hard during their 3-1 loss against the same opposition in their opening tie in Copa América, and they’d scored that elusive first ever goal against the Brazilians. In fact, asked ahead of that match, attacking player Carlos Maldonado had said that they had been “hoping for a draw”, though realizing that a win was “probably out of reach”. Would he still be carrying the same confidence into this fixture?
Moreno had used 16 of the 20 players in Venezuela’s tournament squad. Neither of the four players who had not come on during their four match long stint in Brazil, were present on this occasion. In fact, just 12 from the 20 man strong Copa América squad were still on board, meaning that no less than six new faces had arrived since then. Perhaps had Moreno not been so pleased with their campaign after all?
Six players had started all four of their matches, and five of these six were selectees again. They were goalkeeper César Baena, defenders William Pacheco and team captain Pedro Acosta, as well as defensive midfielder Héctor Rivas and trequartista Carlos Maldonado. The latter had obviously notched all four of their goals in the tournament. A sixth all-starter in the Copa had been Jaimes Laureano, a player we suspect is a wide midfielder.
There were two new defenders in the squad in Zdenko Morovic and Jorge Betancourt, with Luis Rojas and Luis Camacaro making way. Experienced midfielder Nelson Carrero, a hugely popular figure in Venezuelan football, had also been drafted in, as well as forwards Wilton Arreaza and Pedro Gallardo. On the goalkeepers’ front, first choice Baena appeared to be a very obvious pick, with Copa América back-up José Gomez still in the squad.
One who was beginning to make some domestic headlines, in a country starved for success on the footballing stage, was hotshot Stalin Rivas, a 17 year old midfielder who had been given plenty of game time during the continental championship. The left-footed, technically gifted attacking midfielder had played the full 90 minutes in their opening game against Brazil, and also started both their two subsequent matches: a 4-2 defeat against Colombia and the very creditable 1-1 draw against Peru. He’d come off during both of those, and then not featured during their final match, a 3-0 loss against Paraguay. He had, alas, not been selected for the squad on this occasion.
Brazil team news
Being recently crowned continental champions, the core of Brazil’s squad since the Copa América naturally remained largely intact. Allowed just five players on the substitutes’ bench, however, at least six players from the 22 man strong Copa América squad would have to be axed, and obviously a second back-up ‘keeper would not be featuring here.
Two fairly vital players already had missed out on the tournament triumph on home soil: attacking full-back Jorginho and striker Careca, both through injuries. The former was still out, whilst Italy based Careca had returned, although there were rumours he was still not fully fit from a thigh injury. Already boasting wonderful attacking talent in Bebeto and Romário, who had scored a combined nine goals in Copa América, would Careca be able to make his way into the starting eleven, though? Perhaps had they given a hint of what was to come, when all three had appeared in their one warm-up game ahead of the World Cup qualification and in the wake of the Copa: They’d beaten Japan 1-0 in a home friendly seven days earlier, with Dunga and Valdo behind said strike force. Mazinho had filled in admirably at right-back, and although he would face competition from 1986 full-back Josimar, who was once again in the squad, he looked a likely starter. A midweek sparring against Vasco da Gama’s youth team had also seen Careca given a run-out alongside Bebeto and Romário.
Under Lazaroni, Brazil appeared to have a greater emphasis on a reliable defence and a more pragmatic outlook in their line-up. He would pick the team in a 5-3-2 formation, as he had done throughout the Copa América, where they had just conceded a solitary goal in seven matches. He’d built the team around the central defensive trio of Mauro Galvão (libero), Aldair and Ricardo Gomes, with only André Cruz getting an appearance (on Aldair’s behalf in the opening tie against Venezuela, where their solitary concession had occured) among the other central defensive options. Cruz had been planned for the matchday squad, but had ultimately been omitted due to a bruise. Carlos Mozer, the 28 year old centre-back who had recently joined Marseille from Benfica, had been summoned by Lazaroni for this fixture, but his club side had denied him travelling. They had faced Nantes in a league match on the same day as the Brazil squad were flying out to Caracas (29 July). Their full-backs were regarded as weapons of attack, and both Mazinho and Branco would push forward at will.
In midfield, Italy based Dunga had been in the centre among their trio, with very useful helpers in Silas and Valdo, both plying their trade in Portuguese football, around him. In addition, Alemão, a team mate of Careca’s at Napoli, had started twice, although for their final four matches, he’d only been used as a substitute, coming on three times. These midfielders were once again available to Lazaroni.
Not in the squad on this occasion was Atlético Madrid’s goal ace Baltazar, who had started once and made two substitute appearances in Copa América. He’d even scored in their opening win against Venezuela then, though later in the tournament Lazaroni would rather look to Renato Gaúcho when he wanted to replace either of Bebeto or Romário. He was available once again.
45 year old Juan Ortubé Vargas of Bolivia had been appointed as referee for this fixture. He had made his bow at international level during the recently held Copa América: He’d officiated in the group stage match between Paraguay and Colombia (1-0). Hence, this was only his second game at this level. However, he’d refereed at continental club level since 1975, when he had run the rule over The Strongest’s 3-1 win against Jorge Wilstermann, both clubs from his own country Bolivia, in the Copa Libertadores. He had made a total of 11 appearances in this club tournament.
L 1: Pablo Peña (BOL)
L 2: Armando Acuña (BOL)
This was the eighth meeting between the two countries, and, unsurprisingly, Brazil had won all seven of their previous clashes. The only goal which they’d ever conceded against Venezuela had come in the recently held Copa América, where Carlos Maldonado had rounded Galvão and Taffarel to slot the ball into the back of the net for a goal which concluded the scoring in that game (3-1).
They had had four meetings in World Cup qualification: Ahead of Mexico 1970, Brazil had won 5-0 away and 6-0 at home, whilst Venezuela had held tight when they crossed paths in 1981, in qualification for the Spain World Cup the following year, losing only to a late Zico penalty at home in Caracas. Brazil had won the return leg in Goiânia by 5-0 the following month. In addition, they’d also met in the 1975 version of Copa América, where there was no fixed venue, and thus countries had met both home and away, with Brazil winning 4-0 in Caracas and 6-0 in Belo Horizonte.
The aggregate score in favour of Brazil was 35-1 (!).
The game was an afternoon kick-off, and with Caracas averaging something like 28 degrees in July, it would’ve been a warm occasion, although this was obviously not new to either set of players. Plenty of players would take the opportunity to get some liquid on board during the game. The pitch, with running tracks around, appeared to be dry and quite bumpy, whilst there was loads of noise generated from what would’ve been a capacity crowd in a stadium which only had a fitted stand behind one of the two goals.
Brazil also had a good few supporters in the stadium, and they would be seen waving flags in the upper tier on the far side. It is difficult to suggest how many they were, but surely several hundred.
|1 César Baena||28||Caracas|
|2 William Pacheco||27||Atlético Táchira|
|4 Pedro Acosta (c)||29||Caracas|
|5 Jorge Betancourt||19||Trujillanos|
|6 Roberto Cavallo||22||Deportivo Italia|
|8 Bernardo Añor||sub 71′||29||Caracas|
|9 Juan Pedro Febles||sub 54′||31||Marítimo de Venezuela|
|10 Carlos Maldonado||26||Atlético Táchira|
|11 Héctor Rivas||20||Marítimo de Venezuela|
|17 Ildemaro Fernández||27||Estudiantes|
|18 Zdenko Morovic||35′||22||Marítimo de Venezuela|
|x José Gomez||25||Mineros|
|7 Wilton Arreaza||on 54′, 78′||22||Mineros|
|x René Torres||28||Mineros|
|x José Lopez||29||Marítimo de Venezuela|
|15 Nelson Carrero||on 71′||31||Marítimo de Venezuela|
|2 Mazinho||23||Vasco da Gama|
|4 Mauro Galvão||27||Botafogo|
|5 Branco||78′, sub 78′||25||Porto|
|6 Ricardo Gomes (c)||24||Benfica|
|7 Bebeto||25||Vasco da Gama|
|10 Careca||sub 64′||28||Napoli|
|11 Romário||23||PSV Eindhoven|
|x Acácio||30||Vasco da Gama|
|13 Josimar||on 78′||27||Flamengo|
|15 Paulo Silas||on 64′||23||Sporting Lisboa|
|x Renato Gaúcho||26||Flamengo|
As the two teams had lined up in preparation for the big kick-off, the spectators could finally have a look at the respective elevens, and there seemed to be at least one major surprise in the visitors’ starting line-up, where Careca had returned to the side after his injury lay-off during Copa América. He was said not to be a hundred per cent yet, and with both of Bebeto and Romário also in the team, it would be interesting to see how they would shape up. Brazil had made little secret of their 5-3-2 intentions under Lazaroni, but this did indeed suggest a three-pronged attack line.
The hosts had been given the task to set the game in motion, and they did so, finally kicking under way the CONMEBOL section at the same time, through Copa América sensation Carlos Maldonado and midfielder Bernardo Añor.
Brazil display early their desire to feed the ball into wide positions, and in these opening stages it is left-back Branco who is by far their more attacking outlet, even if Mazinho along the opposite flank will have the first effort from inside either area. Less than three minutes in, he makes a meal of a ball which unfortunately bounces up just in front of him, and his shot from an almost impossible angle looks silly as it ends up four storeys high and several yards wide to the right of César Baena’s goal.
It did look, though, as if Brazil had changed their formation for this fixture, even if perhaps Bebeto was not operating as an outright striker in the first few minutes. Careca and Romário were, and with Mazinho and, as briefly mentioned, Branco pushing forward from both flanks, their formation could be interpreted as a 3-4-3 rather than the 5-3-2 which one had come to expect under Lazaroni. Was it in any way disrespectful to the hosts? No, as surely even the most ardent Venezuela supporters must have realized the size of the task ahead. They would not have felt further dwarfed by this switch in Brazil’s formation, but rather contemplating pragmatically how on earth they could contain a side operating with Bebeto, Careca and Romário as a strike force.
How about Venezuela? What did they have in their locker which could possibly hint at an upset here? Well, Maldonado’s been mentioned, and with his four goals in the recently held tournament in Brazil, for sure, the visiting players would’ve known very well who he was. It did look, though, as Maldonado had not lined up in a striking capacity from the off, but rather as something of an attacking midfielder. Joining him in that end of the pitch were Ildemaro Fernández and Juan Pedro Febles, who should be seen as the forward pairing as long as their formation was interpreted as a 4-4-2. This appears a reasonable estimation.
Before the clock’s minute index has even made six full turns, Brazil are ahead. In looking out for the fearsome front trio, Venezuela had not paid equally much attention to the foray into enemy territory by Branco, who was allowed time and space to take aim, and he would let fly with the outside of his left boot from 24 yards, seeing his powerful and precise diagonal shot creep just inside the upright, with goalkeeper Baena displaying a face of disappointment and disbelief once he’d registered that the ball had evaded him. In fact, he could do nothing. Branco’s effort was just too good.
With an early goal against, Venezuela could’ve been forgiven for thinking that they were in for another long night. They were hardly spoiled in terms of positive results against some of the continent’s top guns, and they would need to thread carefully to avoid another big loss. They could well need to maintain possession, to let their players gain some belief simply by realizing that they could stroke it between themselves, at least for passages, as so far they’d looked to be unable to make much ground unless they booted it long. And usually any forward ball would be swiftly dealt with by the Brazilian defence.
We look closer at the hosts
It appears a fairly managable task to pinpoint the Venezuelan formation. They are working in a 4-4-2 print, even if there are some deviations from what would be referred to as ‘conventional’, at least by some European standards. They play with a spare man at the back, they have full-backs who seem interested in pushing forward when the opportunity is there, and they have at least one of their midfielders shadowing an opponent. They do not play with wide midfielders; instead they have three players with somewhat defensive priorities. In addition, there’s Maldonado in an attacking role ahead of them, as he could be said to be a support act for the front two. However, the two players up top also differ slightly from what you could’ve been expecting to see, as Ildemaro Fernández, who had only featured three times coming off the bench during Copa América, was working in a wide, right-sided position.
César Baena was their undisputed number one, and he would continue to give an assured account of himself right through the game. He seemed particularly strong on the goalline, but would also come off his line to claim high balls. Throughout, though, he would let his captain, libero Pedro Acosta, perform the goal kicks. Acosta was another sound player: decent position-wise, relatively strong in the air, and certainly not afraid to put himself about. In the early stages, Venezuela might have been pushed back, but individually, several of their players would look adapt, and not necessarily out of their depth.
In their four man strong defensive line, Venezuela had right-back William Pacheco as a steady customer in the number 2 shirt. He had started all four of their Copa América matches, and looked a reliable performer who would not be afraid to venture across the halfway line. He would also be their right wing corner taker. Pacheco would stand his ground, and he was a competent tackler. Positioning, though, could possibly have been one of his less stronger sides. He would be excused, as Brazil would often want to overload either flank, and Pacheco would need assistance from both Fernández ahead of him, which he rarely got, and midfielder Cavallo.
In the centre was said captain Acosta operating slightly behind their one man-marker: This latter was Zdenko Morovic, a player who was a new arrival in the squad since the continental championship, and he would start the game looking after Careca. However, as the Brazilian strikers would often operate in shifting territories, it would look as if though Morovic would become somewhat in doubt as to whom he would track. He seemed as someone who would remain true to the manager’s instructions, but he was hardly someone whom you would want to see in possession too often. His technical ability appeared to be very limited.
Down the left, Venezuela had a strapping, young player in the shape of teenager Jorge Betancourt. We are unsure exactly of who performed to the left in their defence during the Copa América defeat against the Brazilians, but for their final three matches they had Luis Camacaro. Nowhere to be seen in the squad of 16 for this clash, Camacaro had been replaced by Betancourt, and the early indications were that the youngster was not overawed by the occasion. He was a physically very well developed young man, and he would even not hesitate to make advance down the left, even if his main priority was defending. He possessed a decent left foot which he would use to swing in some first half crosses.
The three players at the rear of the Venezuelan midfield were, right to left, Roberto Cavallo, Bernardo Añor and Héctor Rivas. Cavallo, though, would clearly be monitoring the whereabouts of Bebeto, and with his opponent often moving towards the left hand side early on, Cavallo would let himself be drawn into that territory. He seemed like a relatively robust player, but possibly someone who was stronger out of rather than in possession. Man-marking Bebeto might have been a good decision for him. Añor, the central one of the three, was someone who looked like he could run all day; he was combative, but at the same time he could orchestrate a move. He was easy to spot with his trailing hair, and he would not shirk in his tackling. To his left, he had Héctor Rivas, not to be confused with teenage super talent Stalin Rivas. This Rivas was a granite block of a man, very compact, and obviously a difficult player to come across in a 50/50. He would often be drawn towards the left-back area in compensation for when Betancourt would stride forward. Rivas also appeared a little shy in possession, and would easily shift the ball on for Añor or even Acosta behind him rather than look for options further up in the pitch himself.
Fernández, as mentioned, kept himself wide, and predominantly along the right. Only briefly during the match would he be seen coming across to the left hand side, but in sitting close to the touchline, he would represent a body in an area which could be exposeable due to Brazil’s left-sided defender’s wish to bomb on ahead. This meant that visiting captain Ricardo Gomes would need to cover somewhat further left than he’d originally planned for. Ildemaro Fernández would have a very determined and characteristical look about him when he sped ahead with the ball at his feet, bowing his neck and looking very tunnel-visioned.
In a more central striking capacity was the team’s oldest player in Juan Pedro Febles, a striker of decent size, and someone who looked like he would enjoy the odd cross into the area. However, he would very often be working with his back towards goal, and with the visitors fielding three men in central defence, Febles would enjoy very little possession inside the final third of the pitch. He would try to feed off Maldonado, the fleet-footed player in the attacking midfield role for the hosts, but often would the supply line be cut early. As for Maldonado, he was carefully looked after, and he would find it very difficult to make his mark on the game. He would battle, though, and he did give some nice examples of desire in his chasing of the Brazilian defenders. Dunga would often prove a nemesis for the little Maldonado.
The game has decent pace; there’s few, almost no, pauses in play. Even Venezuela, who could be forgiven for wanting to take the sting out of the game, do not hesitate in restarting after the ball’s been out of play. However, they are realizing, as had been expected, that they’re very much second best, but you’ve got to admire them for effort. They work tirelessly all across the pitch, and they make sure that the visitors do not enjoy an easy ride, even if the Brazilians already have that one goal advantage.
Visitors’ early attempts
There had been an early chance for Dunga to hit a shot with his left foot from inside the area, though it had been blocked, and then, three minutes after the goal, Careca had been played through inside the area from Branco’s deft little pass. Momentum helped Careca take the ball round Baena, but in doing so, he’d almost ran out of pitch, and the striker would be unable to keep in. If he had managed, he would’ve looked odds on either to score or, perhaps more likely, assist a more centrally positioned team mate for an open goal to aim at. And then, just shy of the 15 minute mark, Dunga has an opportunity to let fly from 27-28 yards after a Mazinho cross from the right had been cleared into his direction. The midfielder strikes it sweetly, but he gets just too much foot underneath the ball to be able to keep his effort down. It clears Baena’s bar by a yard or so.
Maldonado had been effectively dealt with by the Brazilians, and he’d not been able to do much so far. Febles looked little in ways of a possible goal threat, while Fernández’ runs along the right had so far been their best outlet in keeping the ball away from their overworked defence. Fernández would rarely face goal directly, and so his probings were not much of a threat to Taffarel, who had yet to break sweat, at least not due to worry from Venezuela’s attacking credentials.
Taffarel had kept goal right through the Copa, and so he was easily Lazaroni’s first choice for the goalkeeper’s position. The lean, fair, athletic 23 year old looked to have a bright future ahead of him, even if he was hardly playing for a leading club nationally in Porto Alegre based Internacional. That said, his club had reached the final of Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, where they’d narrowly lost against Bahia over two legs early in the year.
Brazil’s defensive core consisted of libero Mauro Galvão and centre-backs Aldair and Ricardo Gomes. The latter was the team captain, just like he had been in Copa América, and he was operating to Galvão’s advanced left, at times needing to cover towards the left-back area which Branco would time and again abandon when going forward. Gomes was a commanding defender, very good in the air, and also competent on the ball. He would be thrust forward for attacking set-pieces, and he would be a very useful player for the team at both ends. Aldair, the right-sided among their central defenders, was someone who always looked like he was playing with a spring in his step. He was quite graceful in his approach, and though he was a very good player aerially, he was perhaps best noticed for his contributions when in possession. He ran so effortlessly with the ball at his feet, and he was equipped with fine technical ability, certainly above the average level of a centre-back. Galvão, looking lazy, was naturally a sound reader of the game, and he would mop up whatever came through his way. On this occasion, he would usually leave forays forward to Aldair, although he did cross the halfway line three or four times throughout the game.
Their wing-backs, for so they should be seen, or possibly even as wide midfielders in a 3-4-3, which we’ve suggested for their formation on this occasion, were Mazinho to the right and Branco along the left, just like they had been for the majority of the Copa. Mazinho was another player who looked so effortless in what he did, typically keeping his back very straight whenever he strode forward. And he would indeed contribute along the right hand side, making him much more of an asset moving into the final third of the pitch than he was in demand inside their own half. As for Branco, well, he was something similar, just even more attacking. He was hardly bothered by Fernández’ presence along his side, and he’d obviously already presented himself through that blockbuster early goal. That left foot could strike a ball with both power and precision at the same time, and with plenty of curl.
At the base of the Brazilian midfield sat Dunga. He was a fearsome opponent, and in addition to covering plenty of grass, he was infamous for his tackling. He appeared to thrive here in Caracas, displaying plenty of desire, and not even hesitate in coming forward. He’d had those two attempts already, and would always need to be looked after whenever he approached shooting range. Somewhat to his advanced left, Dunga had the stylish Valdo. The latter had been prefered ahead of Alemão during the Copa, and he was excellent in how he transported the ball at pace. Valdo might not have enjoyed quite the same reputation as Alemão, at least overseas, but was he any lesser of a player? That is a difficult claim. He had terrific vision, and he had the ability to strike passes of any range. Valdo formed a formidable central midfield duo with Dunga in that they combined power and flair. On this occasion, they were without a third designated midfielder around them.
Bebeto was working less in a typical striker’s role than his two compatriots up front, Careca and Romário. In fact, Bebeto was proving himself as a highly flexible character on the day, soon moving towards the left, soon to the right. Like this, he tried to shake off his marker Cavallo, who had clearly been instructed to track his movements. Bebeto was hardly affected, and it would in fact be him who perhaps should’ve been shown a yellow card for a foul on Cavallo rather than the other way around, when he’d come back well inside his own half in order to do a defensive job on Venezuela’s number 6. It had been a typical “striker’s tackle” from Bebeto.
Careca was being looked after by Morovic. At times, he did not look his sharpest, or perhaps even not always at his most enthusiastic. Perhaps was there something to the rumours claiming that he was not completely fit. His reputation still made him a big, big adversary in the eyes of the hosts, and he had shown in glimpses what he was capable of. He was also much more of an aerial threat than either of Bebeto and Romário, so should Brazil wish to feed high balls into the area, something which was far from their prefered route towards goal, at least so far, he could prove an asset. As for Romário, he, too, would have that deceptively lazy look about him, at times not looking interested at all. However, he would explode to life once he felt he was in on goal, although he’d not moved around very gracefully in these early stages yet. Like Careca, Romário would also have to tackle Morovic from time to time, as the Venezuelan central defender did not always quite know which of the two to stick close to.
Venezuelan midfield gives as good as it takes
There continues to be plenty of bite about this Venezuelan team, which is in no mood whatsoever to lay down and surrender. They battle hard for every single ball in midfield, and they let their much more illustrious visitors know that they’re there. Some players typify their intensity better than others, and the little, tigerish Añor in the centre of the park is probably the first that springs to mind. Brazil may control the flow of the game, even if they are numerically inferior right in the centre of the park, but they also have to fend off the constant pressing and chasing from Añor, who will battle with both Valdo and Dunga.
Cavallo continues to sacrifice himself for the good of the team, as he rarely lets Bebeto out of sight. This means he has a lesser role whenever they’re in possession, but on a couple of occasions he does show that he can play a bit too, as he’s able to shrug off Dunga’s attempt at a tackle and move well inside the visitors’ half of the pitch, until he’s finally having to accept a throw-in at Dunga’s expense after the Brazilian midfielder had come back for a second bite at the cherry. Rivas, meanwhile, is still there with his physicality, but he, too, like Cavallo, has just a minor role to play once the hosts have gained possession, usually remaining back as a defensive midfield shield in front of their defence.
Opportunities at both ends
There’s an impressive break on right on 20 minutes, after the home side have shown for a few minutes that they certainly are still in the contest. Brazil do not shift the ball around at high pace, and Venezuela can live with them. When a brave Añor tackle sees the ball reach Fernández on the right hand side of midfield, he bends his neck and accelerates down the right, into the space once again left vacant by Branco. The quick transition brings him level with the edge of the area, where he spots Maldonado on a fine run in a more central position. Fernández plays him in, but a quality piece of defending by the Brazil captain sees Ricardo Gomes poke the ball away from the little playmaker’s feet, and the chance is gone. Had Maldonado been able to take another touch, he might well have been able to steady himself for a strike at target next. As it were, Taffarel still had not been worked.
Play immediately switches down to the other end, where the Brazilian forward trio for the first time engage one another in combination, as Romário feeds a little ball towards the left outside the area, where Bebeto lets it run to Careca just behind him, for the latter to knock a ball back over the top and into the centre, where Romário latches on to it, with Acosta having failed in an attempt to clear it. The bumpy surface makes it almost impossible for the little Netherlands based forward to control it well, and he ends up with his back towards goal as goalkeeper Baena has raced out to deny him. However, Romário makes a swift and clever turn, and is able to poke the ball in the direction of goal, only to see right-back Pacheco, who’s sprinted back and is the last line of defence with Baena committed, clear it desperately off the line. It was as close to a second Brazilian goal as it could get.
With half an hour of action behind us, Brazil are well aware that this will be no plain sailing, although you are forgiven for thinking that perhaps the home side will ease up on their pressure somewhat with the course of the game; they can’t possibly sustain this level of intensity for 90 minutes. The visitors were allowed another strike goalwards after Añor had felled Aldair from behind when the Brazilian stopper had made advance well into Venezuelan territory. 30 yards out, Branco tried to bend it into the top left corner, but his effort cleared the bar by a foot. Dunga is next to have a go from distance, but his low shot from 28 yards is blocked on the edge of the area by Rivas. And then two of the three forwards once again work themselves into a favourable position, with Romário feeding Careca to the left inside the area. The visitors’ number 10 tried to square it low towards the far post and the lingering Valdo with his left foot, but his attempted pass was cut out by the impressive Baena, who dived down to hold on safely to the ball. Still, Brazil just had a single goal to show for.
Youngster’s fine performance
One of the more impressive Venezuelan performances during this opening half comes from young left-back Betancourt. He’s a dynamic, athletic player with plenty of energy in his play, and he is not afraid to cross the halfway line, even if his opportunities to do so have become fewer as the half’s progressed. When he does decide to move forward, the gap which he leaves behind will be filled by Rivas. And while Venezuela only sparingly make it inside Brazilian territory as the first half is inside its third quarter, there’s an impressive run by Betancourt to remind the visitors what Venezuela are capable of. The hosts have arrived at a few opportunities to cross the ball into the area so far, though on this occasion it is Betancourt’s mazy run which catches the eye rather than the home side arriving at another possibility for a cross. He makes it until 20 yards from goal before he’s denied in a tackle by Valdo, having tried to play a one-two with Maldonado.
No way through visitors’ defence
The Brazilian defence appears solid. It is true that the level of threat coming from the home side has not been huge, as they’ve been very reluctant to commit several players forward at the same time, hoping that their most forward trio of Fernández, Maldonado and Febles are able to carve out opportunities of their own. Earlier in the half, both Pacheco from the right and Rivas from the left had been able to deliever crosses, but every time a ball had been hit into the area, more in hope than in belief, either Aldair or Gomes had made a defensive header to clear the ball away. Galvão had not yet been tested defensively, but he acted in a composed, mature manner behind the other two central defenders. Taffarel had been surplus to requirements thus far.
The game is played in fine spirits, with no ill temper from either teams’ players. However, that briefly takes a sinister turn when Venezuela centre-back Morovic, who might be feeling the frustration of not always knowing which Brazilian forward to shadow, decides to step a few yards into the forward direction when he sees Dunga approach the final third of the pitch after a one-two with Careca. The return ball bounces high for the midfielder, and rather than control it, he decides to flick it with his heel past his oncoming opponent, though Morovic apparently has a rush of blood to his head as he kicks out Kung-Fu style into the side of the Italy based midfield hard man. Not one to go to the ground easily, Dunga takes count on this occasion, and very deservedly the Bolivian referee jots down Morovic’ name and shows him the yellow card. In fact, the colour of the card was more orange. What he did has no place on a football pitch.
Valdo standing out
Valdo has been a quiet grafter during the entire first half: Clearly someone who puts the team ahead of himself, he’s made a telling contribution from his slightly left-sided midfield position. Not that he was playing in a wide capacity, but he was generally operating along the left hand channel when Brazil went on attack, and he would combine well with Branco and either forward who would venture towards this territory. Valdo was another highly athletic player, with delightful close control, and equipped with a delicate repertoar of passes. He would be one of the major players inside the final ten minutes of the opening half, as he had no less than three efforts from distance, two which drew saves from Baena.
Valdo’s first had been a somewhat scuffed left-footed attempt from the edge of the area, which had bubbled to the extent that Baena just pushed it out for a Brazil right wing corner. Valdo’s next shot was when he got past Añor to have a strike with his right foot, only to see it wide to the left by a yard. Then, two minutes from the half-time whistle, he elected again to have a go with his right foot, this time from 26-27 yards, and his attempt at finding the bottom left corner brought another save from Baena, who was smartly down in order to stop the ball. The ‘keeper, though, conceded a rebound, which Bebeto chased. However, Baena got there first, and then had to endure a kick towards his head from the onrushing visiting forward, although there was no mean touch to it by Bebeto. Baena would quickly resume after a touch by the magic sponge, and a minute later he would elect to come out and punch away Branco’s delievery into the area. The only problem was that the ‘keeper collided with his captain, and Acosta was next in need of medical treatment. Fortunately, he too would be fine to continue, and a minute and seven seconds into time added on, Mr Ortubé blew his whistle for half time.
It was controlled and measured by Brazil, but they had not overexerted themselves. Should they put this plucky Venezuelan outfit truly to the sword, they would need to up the pace after the break. The hosts, on the other hand, could take plenty of pride in how they’d acquitted themselves defensively, as there had never been danger of a riot scoreline, at least not thus far.
Venezuela 0, Brazil 1.
The first half had been a decent spectacle, even if the famous visitors had hardly accelerated beyond the necessary. Brazil had done what they had needed to, but they would underestimate Venezuela at their peril, as the hosts had demonstrated during the first half that they had players who were capable of hurting Brazil if they were given the opportunity. Still, you’d think that the away side had another gear in them if need be, but so far they’d not gelled completely.
In their final friendly ahead of this opening World Cup qualifier, Brazil had not managed to find the back of the net until they had been starting to make changes, and it had been youngster Bismarck who had netted the only goal of the game in the second half. Would they once again need to re-think about their starting eleven in order to get going?
Venezuela would’ve been pleased that they had been able to compete with one of the truly big guns, and on the back of their gutsy first half performance, they’d have felt that they could go on and maybe snatch something from the game. There were no changes in either team as the visitors got the ball rolling in the second half through Romário and Bebeto.
Brazil’s attacking shape
The visitors’ attack had promised so much through the sheer names which were jotted down on the team sheet: Romário. Bebeto. Careca. However, in open play, they had so far struggled to make a serious impact on the Venezuelan defence. How could that be? During the first 45 minutes, Romário had clearly been their most forward player, with Careca operating more or less alongside him, although he would occasionally come slightly deeper in order to participate in creation. Bebeto, their top scorer in Copa América, had several times moved out towards the left hand side, and it could be argued whether or not breaking up their well-known pattern that would stem from their 5-3-2 was ideal for this Brazilian select.
Early in the second half, it would look as if Careca was dropping deeper, perhaps trying to avoid running into the same spaces which were meant for either of Bebeto or Romário. In fact, Bebeto’s first half shadow, Venezuelan midfield man Roberto Cavallo, would start to orientate himself towards Careca, as Bebeto would be playing more towards the centre. Yet his nature saw to that he would still occasionally wander out wide, but yes, there had clearly been half-time talks addressing how they could get the most out of their on paper so prolific trio of forwards. Still, the first second half opportunity would fall to Valdo, who had ended the first half on a strong note with his three efforts, and six minutes into the second half, he would cut inside from the right and take the ball to the penalty area D before letting go a left-footed effort which it took another dive from Baena to beat away. Valdo had spent the majority of the first half as something of an inside left midfielder, so it remained to be seen whether his arrival from an inside right-like position would be a new treat or not for the second half.
Venezuelan forward options
In the home camp, their attacking prowess had not really been able to impact much on the game. Their shape was an interesting, yet unusual, one, with Febles working through the centre, Fernández out in a wide right forward capacity, and with ‘man of the moment’ Maldonado being positioned just behind them, slightly towards the left. He was a relatively small player in size, the man who’d struck four times in Copa América, but his low centre of gravity enabled him to display some neat close control. The pitch was hardly ideal for players with great technical ability, as the ball would bounce more prolifically than on a less dry and even surface, and though Maldonado probed, he had so far not seen much reward for his labour. As for Febles, well, he was almost one you’d feel sympathy for, as operating under those circumstances, against three massive centre-backs, could’ve taken the energy out of most players. Febles looked like he could’ve benefitted from more direct support, perhaps with Maldonado in a more advanced position or indeed with Fernández slotting into the centre, but as it were, he was left chasing shadows. They would need to engage some of their other midfielders, although neither Rivas nor Cavallo looked able to, and possibly even also a full-back if they were to create anything in terms of trouble in front of Taffarel. The Brazilian goalkeeper had yet to be tested at all.
Hosts make the first change of the game
Could a substitution be the way to go? Venezuela boss Moreno would’ve seen that Febles had struggled to make much of an impact, and the moustached striker had also been on the receiving end of a couple of big challenges, and so perhaps was the early second half substitution not just motivated by a wish to change tactics or approach. We’d not actually seen the moment when Febles left the pitch to be replaced by Wilton Arreaza, a 22 year old forward from reigning domestic league champions Mineros of Guayana City, as there had been a jump in the tape of nearly three and a half minutes. Whether it had been an injury forcing Febles off or it had happened solely for tactical reasons, was immaterial. Could Arreaza, also seemingly powerfully built, but nine years Febles’ junior though possibly more mobile, aid Venezuela’s attacking fortunes?
Brazil turn the screw
The switch in Brazilian attacking tactics became only more evident with the progress of the second half, as Careca had clearly been dropping deeper. Bebeto had probably been allowed to set his sight on territories deeper inside the Venezuelan final third, but first and foremost would the visitors make use of their right hand side in order to create chances. In fact, there would turn out to be acres of space for them to exploit down the right, as Venezuela midfielder Héctor Rivas appeared to have somewhat less emphasis on defensive duties after the arrival of substitute Arreaza for Febles. This left Betancourt pretty much to his own devices in defending their left hand side, and apparently not the most disciplined individual yet, although plenty could be excused due to his tender age, he would time and again invite the Brazilians to come knocking on his door.
For opportunities, Dunga arrived at a shooting chance again some eleven minutes into the second half, when he capitalized on a poor clearance from Arreaza, who had been back trying to help out in defence. The ball fell invitingly to him 22-23 yards out, and from his position slightly to the right of the target, he would need no second invitation. Dunga’s low shot, just off the grass, was claimed at the second attempt by the still impressive Baena. A couple of minutes later, the goalkeeper looked odds on to have another shot to deal with, though when Romário is set up for a shot from 18 yards by Branco’s strong run down the left hand channel and fine pass inside, the ball takes a slight bounce before he’s about to pull the trigger, something which sees his effort ballooned high and wide. There’s also a headed effort at the far post by Careca from Mazinho’s fine cross from the right, though the striker doesn’t connect cleanly, and a relieved Baena can see the ball end up wide of the post. Still, the omens were not good for the home side, who were increasingly under pressure.
Visitors make substitution
Brazil are next to make a change in personnel, and perhaps is it no great surprise when Lazaroni decides to take Careca off and replace him with a more natural attacking midfielder in Paulo Silas, who had been seen warming up on the sidelines for a few minutes already. The latter had, after all, played a major part in Brazil’s Copa América triumph, and their successful midfield trio from that tournament was once again reunited, with Silas slotting in as the inside right man, next to Dunga in the centre and Valdo across from them as their inside left. Would this see the mojo well and truly back for the continental champions? Silas’ first piece of action is when he is fed the ball in the right hand channel and can combine with Mazinho in tormenting the Venezuelans’ left-back area. Together they conjure up a right wing corner from which Ricardo Gomes glances a header against the left hand post. Silas, by the way, has already earned Cavallo as his designated marker after Careca’s exit.
Brazil increase their lead
Venezuela are nowhere near replicating their tight defensive performance from the first half, and they are exposed to opportunities against every time Brazil make a foray into their territory. There’s a scuffed Romário effort a minute after Ricardo Gomes had hit the post, and another minute later, Silas tries to curl one into the top corner from just outside the area, only to see the ball end up well wide after his dreadfully executed attempt. Still, it seemed as only a matter of time before Brazil would extend their lead, and so they did on 68 minutes, after Baena had first made a world class save from Romário’s close range header after Branco’s excellent left wing cross. Silas is on hand to pick up the pieces from the goalkeeper’s rebound, and he feeds the ball back to Mazinho, who is unopposed to hit yet another cross into the area, where Romário chests it down surrounded by Pacheco and Morovic to hit a right-footed strike under Baena from six yards. 2-0 had long been coming.
What next, Venezuela?
The gulf in class was finally being demonstrated, and how would Venezuela make their next step from here? They were overrun, outplayed and outfought, and they had very little going for them so far in the second half. They owed it to some poor Brazil finishing and superb goalkeeping heroics from Baena to keep the scores down, and you could sense how the visitors were still not finished despite that second goal recently.
The Venezuelan players had worked tirelessly during the first half, but their fitness levels seemed to have dropped drastically, as they were far from able to maintain that level of intensity about their defending. First and foremost you felt that they were completely being torn apart in midfield, where Añor, perhaps the player which had typified their first half endeavours the most, and Rivas were being bullied by their opponents. Also, they had little assistance from Cavallo, their third defensive midfielder, who seemed to be totally devoted to his man-marking duties, now following Silas around. In turn, the poor Betancourt, who had looked competent in the first half, had no defensive support or cover, and he stood little chance to prevent the avalanche which kept coming down his side of the pitch.
It felt like a natural thing to replace one of the midfielders, and with Añor seemingly unable to cope any longer, he was the second home player to be sacrificed, as Moreno brought on the experienced Nelson Carrero. He was a 31 year old from popular Caracas club Marítimo, and Carrero himself was generally well liked in the domestic footballing circles. When Vinotinto had lost 3-2 at home to Argentina in qualification for the 1986 World Cup, Diego Maradona went on record saying: “No player has skipped past me with such ease as Carrero.” He would prove to be a direct swap for Añor, and he would add some fresh legs and perhaps new ideas to a crumbling midfield. Not that speed in any way appeared to be his forte, but he seemed composed enough to be able to keep on to the ball even in tight situations. If he could help the hosts in regaining some general composure, Venezuela could perhaps face the final quarter of the match with a slightly more positive outlook.
In fact, the arrival of Carrero looked to have steadied ship for the home side, at least momentarily, as the relentless waves of Brazilian attacks wore off in the wake of the substitution. However, Betancourt, who had given that decent first half account of himself, continued to display his total lack of positional awareness, more than once being caught out in the centre of the pitch, deep inside the visitors’ half. No wonder why the team in yellow and blue enjoyed such a field day along their right hand side after the break.
Two more cautions and another substitution
Whilst the game had been a fair contest, that rush of blood to the head incident involving Morovic during the first half excepted, there’s an off the ball scuffle between Arreaza and Branco as they both race towards the Brazilian area in a Venezuelan counter, with the ball out wide right and by the feet of Fernández. Branco appears to lash out at the Venezuelan substitute, who understandably retaliates with a push, and though the referee appears to take no action against either player, he will call them to pay for their sins when the ball’s finally out of play a minute later. Both Arreaza and Branco are shown a yellow card, the latter as he is about to be substituted anyway. Lazaroni has decided to replace him with the famous Josimar, an ’86 World Cup legend, not least for his goals against Northern Ireland and Poland. This would see Mazinho switch from right to left in order to accomodate Josimar along the right. No doubt Lazaroni saw how much space there was to exploit down that flank, and he would’ve wanted the second Brazil substitute to bomb forward from that attacking full-back position.
Brazil hit Venezuela twice in a short space of time
Just as perhaps a sense of relief was creeping into the Venezuelan players, they would go on and concede twice in the space of two minutes. They had already been exposed to plenty of quick Brazilian transitions earlier in the second half, and when Silas quickly darts from the visitors’ half of the pitch and well into the hosts’, the nimble midfielder can play Romário, who in turn spots Bebeto’s run to his right. The Venezuelan defence is stretched wide open, and racing into the area unopposed, Bebeto can slot the ball into the back of the net with a composed finish low to the right of Baena. His second is a powerful, clinical strike after Ricardo Gomes’ surprise appearance inside the hosts’ penalty area after Josimar has cut inside from the right and played the captain in. In fact, Gomes would proabably have won a penalty were it not for the fact that Bebeto struck the ball emphatically into the back of the net, as he was felled by Morovic. At 4-0, the game was taking the expected turn as far as winning margin was concerned.
Josimar’s inclusion has the desired effect: He’s obviously a more natural wide player coming forward than Mazinho, who was now working down the opposite flank as Branco’s replacement. And with the Venezuelan left hand side being in complete second half disarray defensively, there’s just as much space for the long-limbed substitute to make use of as his predecessor had enjoyed. Josimar has numerous runs down the right, though his crossing is not always top notch. However, on 86 minutes, they should’ve added another as his near post low cross just avoided ending up in the back of the net after a faint touch by Romário. Baena, though, was still bent on maintaining a high level of goalkeeping, and he managed beat it away, and the chance was gone. A shoesize larger, and Romário would’ve had his second.
The remaining few minutes are uneventful, even if Brazil continue their shoot on sight policy. However, efforts from Bebeto (straight at Baena with his left foot from 22 yards), Dunga, Silas and Aldair all fail to impress, while Venezuela are done, just waiting out time. The referee lets play continue until almost three minutes of injury time’s passed. Brazil had opened their World Cup qualifying campaign with a resounding win, exactly like had been expected of them. Venezuela, meanwhile, had managed to show good composure for the first 45 minutes, only to take a second half drop in quality.
The first half sees an early goal when Branco pins one with a low, diagonal shot from a distance, but for the remainder of the opening period, Venezuela sure give a fine account of themselves, not least in how they battle to keep their much more illustrious opponents at an arm’s length away from their impressive goalkeeper Baena. Brazil seem a bit sluggish, but they’ll improve after the break when they move Careca back into an attacking midfield position, and even more so when Silas comes on to replace the Napolitan. The visitors produce some quick transitions which the hosts are unable to cope with, and Venezuela expose their left hand side defensively time and again. Further goals once Brazil had got their regular shape back were only a matter of minutes away, and they would earn a handsome win courtesy of goals from Romário and Bebeto (twice). Taffarel was never tested.
1 César Baena 7.6
easily his team’s best player despite conceding four times. Saved plenty of shots, had that worldie from Romário’s point-blank header, and collected several times on the near post from Brazilian crosses. Hardly put a foot wrong
2 William Pacheco 6.6
sound in his positional awareness, and benefitted from maintaining a defensive nature for most of the game, despite getting into a couple of decent crossing positions when he decided to trot forward
4 Pedro Acosta 6.8
made several interceptions in the centre, and was definitely composed in possession. Showed bravery, and he was indeed one of their better outfield players
5 Jorge Betancourt 6.5
fine first half display where his athleticism and impressive physique for a youngster saw him emerge as a fine outlet along the left, but inexplicably dropped several levels after the break, where he was exposed so many times defensively by attack-minded visitors
6 Roberto Cavallo 6.6
a designated man-marker for Bebeto from his defensive midfield position. Always a struggle to shadow such an agile, in-form opponent. Not at all bad in distribution
8 Bernardo Añor 6.7
a fine first half in which he distributed well, in addition to displaying some physique and battle in the heart of the Venezuelan midfield. Tired in the second half, and could not have the same impact on proceedings, much like the rest of the team. Replaced by someone stronger in possession
(15 Carrero –
looked like a composed performer, but Venezuela were woefully out of shape by the time of his arrival, and could not make much of an impact)
9 Juan Pedro Febles 6.3
had an unenviable task as the lone centre-forward, and was typically crowded out. Could rarely make use of his fine-looking physique, and struggled for pace. Possibly taken off in an attempt to add more dynamism to attack
(7 Arreaza 6.5
showed plenty of workrate, had some physicality about him, but could not add a goal threat. Probably unlucky to be booked in the incident with Branco, where Arreaza appeared to be punched)
10 Carlos Maldonado 6.3
displayed some early optimism, but would not prove a threat whatsoever after he’d failed to get away a shot when presented with the ball after a first half break. Isolated after he went up top
11 Héctor Rivas 6.6
tried his best to steady ship defensively in the second half, as he needed to cover for an out-of-position Betancourt many a time. Brought steel to midfield, but could not cope when visitors upped the tempo
17 Ildemaro Fernández 6.7
a tricky customer along the right, although his dribbling did not lead to anything. At least he kept the Brazilian left hand side somewhat occupied defensively
18 Zdenko Morovic 6.1
tried his best to stick tight to the Brazilian attackers, and would usually look to cling on to the most central opponent at any time, whether it be Careca or Romário. Desperately helpless in possession, and fortunate not to see red for his disgusting lash on Dunga
1 Taffarel 6.8
apart from plucking the ball out from the air a couple of times, he had so little to do; no save to make. Difficult to judge on such a performance
2 Mazinho 7.3
seen with his usual swagger when coming forward from his right-back position, and played a part in many of their transitions. Rarely challenged defensively. Switched across to the left after Branco came off
3 Aldair 7.3
unbeatable in the air, and very comfortable along the ground. Joined in coming forward on a few occasions, and looked sound and full of belief
4 Mauro Galvão 7.1
hardly exerted himself at the back, but did not allow the hosts any space in the centre, and saw fit to cross the halfway line a couple of times without making any headlines
5 Branco 7.3
certainly a very useful outlet along the left, and he set the tone with an excellent shot for that early goal. Arrived at several crossing opportunities, and was unfortunate not to get an assist. Involved in a scuffle with Arreaza, for which they both saw yellow, immediately before taken off
(13 Josimar –
easy to understand why he was brought on, as his attacking style appeared to be a great fit for how the second half developed. Enjoyed plenty of space along his side, but could ultimately not make a telling contribution)
6 Ricardo Gomes 7.5
an aerial colossus, and won in the air every time he went up for a ball, whether it be defensively or in attack, where he was unfortunate to see his glanced header kiss the outside of the post. Excellent foot-work ahead of the fourth goal from a surprise attacking contribution
7 Bebeto 7.8
so difficult to keep in tow, even if Cavallo tried his best. Very mobile, highly agile, and a ruthless finisher when given the opportunity
8 Dunga 7.9
patrolled midfield, and his dominance was even greater the longer the game went on. Had a few shots from distance, though only once drew a stop from Baena
9 Valdo 7.5
worked well in tandem with Dunga until Brazil restored their Copa América winning eleven, when they regained their coherency in midfield to see them arrive at a number of opportunities. Tireless, and indeed so skillful. A big asset, even if he was less influental than his starting midfield compatriot
10 Careca 6.8
could not contribute to attacking fluency, and his inclusion could well have unrhythmed the Brazilians. Had a couple of scoring opportunities. Appeared a little deeper from the start of the second half, but the visitors would improve drastically once he’d been taken off
(15 Silas 7.2
his appearance coincided with Brazil time and again tearing into the hosts, as they won back their midfield fluency. He distributed well, but had a few very disappointing shots)
11 Romário 7.1
so gifted technically, but did not always appear to have the greatest appetite for the game. Still he was unlucky not to at least add once to his tally. At times tried to take on too many opponents