By Tom Webber
On a day where Spain suffered their first-ever defeat to Japan, and Uruguay had to come from behind to beat United Arab Emirates, Brazil could have been forgiven for being a bit apprehensive going into their Olympic opener with Egypt. A tremendous attacking display in the first 45 minutes put the Selecao three goals ahead at half-time, but the second period showed certain defensive frailties that could ultimately cost them gold in London.
The signs were there from the off. Egypt started in an unexpectedly positive fashion, pushing Brazil back and catching them unaware with Juan easily allowing Mohamed El-Nenny the first shot at goal. But after a rocky opening few minutes, Mano Menezes' side soon burst to life and showed the full extent of their attacking prowess with three goals before the break. Oscar appeared to be everywhere as he carved through the Egyptian defence with his coruscating dribbling and accurate passing, while Hulk's power and directness, as well as an impressive crossing game, gave Brazil a physical edge.
The second half, however, was a different story as Juan and Marcelo were the chief culprits in a number of defensive lapses that almost cost the Selecao the three points. The young Inter defender seemed completely oblivious to the action at times and forced Thiago Silva to watch his back regularly throughout.
|MATCH FACTS | Brazil 3-2 Egypt
Marcelo's defensive contribution has always been debatable and he had a similarly disappointing display, akin to his performance in the 2-0 defeat against Mexico last month. His sloppy header almost gifted Mohamed Salah a goal, but Egypt would get their second and once more Juan was culpable. The 21-year-old stepped out and misjudged an attempted interception, allowing Basel forward Salah the chance to exploit the space in behind and bend a shot past Neto.
Brazil have a tendency to step off the gas when they open up a lead and it was no different against Egypt. As the influence of the South American's front four waned drastically in the second half, it offered the platform for their weak defence to come under pressure. It is a bad habit, particularly when defending is not the side's strongest suit.
But the Selecao could have taken a a more solid defensive line-up to the Games. Menezes could have picked Rafael Toloi or Manoel, both of whom are under 23-years-old, or even taken David Luiz or Dede as one of his over-age players. Yes, it may have cost either Hulk or Marcelo a spot in the squad, but depth in their positions is stronger than that of the current options at centre-back. Toloi and Manoel have been playing regularly at club level, Juan and Bruno Uvini have not. However, the decision to start Rafael da Silva ahead of Danilo has provided extra stability down the right side.
While Brazil may possess the most diverse and exhilarating attack in the tournament, something which gives them a greater ability to break teams down unlike Spain against Japan, a leaky defence is a huge problem. The loss of Rafael Cabral to injury will have hit the team hard and now having to play in front of a new keeper makes it all the more difficult. They may have still picked up the important three points, but Menezes must attempt to address this issue or the best attacking side in the tournament could well miss out on their first-ever Olympic gold medal.
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