BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil – Host Brazil once again showcased their new recipe for success in a 2-0 Copa America semifinal victory over Argentina: impenetrable defense, well-organized midfield play and opportunism in attack.
But while the Seleçao rediscovered the offensive effectiveness that had been lacking at times earlier in the tournament, they were far from dominant Tuesday night against an Argentine side that deserved more at Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte.
Brazil largely abandoned the flashy “jogo bonito” (beautiful game) style of play that is their trademark, with only 36-year-old captain Dani Alves lifting the fans out of their seats with his artistry.
Argentina, in fact, played at a higher level for much of the contest, created more scoring opportunities (including two shots that struck the woodwork), unsuccessfully clamored for two penalties and had the slight overall edge in possession (50.3 percent to 49.7 percent).
Brazil, however, now is more solid than ever on defense, having allowed zero goals in five matches en route to a berth in Sunday’s final.
Although head coach Tite has urged his players to capitalize on their chances up front, they have been cautioned about structural breakdowns that could allow opponents to launch rapid counter-attacks.
Brazil’s priority is clearly for net minder Alisson to keep a clean sheet and to wait for one of the team’s skilled attacking players to come up with something special at the other end of the field.
That formula worked to perfection against Argentina.
The first goal was set up by an outstanding individual effort by Alves, who flicked a pass to himself over a defender’s head before maneuvering around a defender and sending the ball to Roberto Firmino on the right side.
The Liverpool forward then proceeded to deliver a cross to Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus, who fired a shot into the upper part of the goal from close range in the 19th minute.
Brazil, however, ceded the initiative to Argentina for a lengthy stretch after taking that early lead and allowed the Albiceleste to camp out in their area.
But with the momentum seemingly in Argentina’s favor, Gabriel Jesus made a strong run from midfield before passing off to a wide-open Firmino for an easy score in the 71st minute.
Brazil won by fully capitalizing on their opportunities, even though for much of the match they scarcely threatened Franco Armani’s goal.
The main concern for Brazil heading into Sunday’s final is that their forwards will be off their games, as has already happened in two contests during this Copa America, South America’s soccer championship.
They slogged through the first half of their opening Group A match against Bolivia on June 14, when Philippe Coutinho finally managed to open the scoring on a penalty in the 50th minute and Brazil went on to win 3-0.
The hosts then played to a sluggish scoreless draw against Venezuela in their second group-stage match and failed to score in regulation time against Paraguay in the quarterfinals before moving through with a narrow win in the penalty shootout.
Of the 10 goals Brazil have scored through five matches, half of them came in their final group-stage match against Peru.
That lack of consistent scoring punch could be an issue when they take on either Peru once again or two-time defending champion Chile in Sunday’s final at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium.