The two most impressive teams in CONMEBOL qualifying squared off in Montevideo in what was billed as Brazil’s most difficult task since their turnaround under Tite. The Seleção visited second-place Uruguay, with the hosts keen to prove a point. In the return fixture, Luis Suarez single-handedly turned things around as he inspired his team to a valuable point away from home, coming back from two goals behind. However, Los Charruas were without their suspended talisman this time around and his absence was felt.
Despite taking an early lead through an Edinson Cavani penalty, Uruguay didn’t have the requisite finesse or x-factor to constantly trouble the Brazilian defence. Meanwhile, Brazil combined economy of movement with precision in the final third to run away with a comfortable 4-1 victory. Paulinho scored an efficient hat trick, but Neymar was the star of the show with his passing and a memorable goal to put Brazil 3-1 up and effectively finish the game.
The result means Tite has inspired his men to seven successive wins since taking over the helm at one of world football’s most pressurized jobs. The Brazilian players are enjoying their football again as their manager encourages them to express themselves. Tite also espouses a calmness which brings the team a much-needed emotional balance that was missing under previous managers, Dunga and Phil Scolari.
Another impressive aspect of Tite’s management — and this could yet be the most crucial — is how seamlessly he gets his players to fit into a system rather than the other way around. Successful international management is rarely about shoehorning the best players at your disposal. The midfield is playing with a clarity of purpose with Champions League winner Casemrio, Paulinho and Renato Augusto playing prominent roles. This is working well despite the latter two playing in the Chinese Super League and speaks volumes for Tite’s man-management as well as the team spirit he has fostered.
This is not to say that Tite’s forte lies only in intangible skills. His tactical understanding is not to be underestimated. Significantly, he has shown that he is not rigid with his formations. After achieving a lot of success playing a front two of Neymar and Gabriel Jesus, the latter’s injury meant Tite had to change things around in Montevideo. He withdrew Neymar to a deeper position, allowing Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho to interchange as false nines, dragging Uruguay’s back four all over the place. It is also noticeable that both Marcelo and Dani Alves are playing with greater awareness and defensive responsibility than at any other time in their Seleção careers, a problem that Tite’s predecessors simply had no solutions for.
Brazil are now seven points clear of second-place Uruguay and a further three clear of Ecuador in the fifth place intercontinental playoff spot. All they need is two wins from their remaining five games to seal qualification. It may not even come to that if other teams drop points, as seems likely in a campaign where no team has come even remotely close to the consistency shown by the five-time world champions since Tite took over.
From dealing with serious doubts about even qualifying in the early stages of the campaign, Brazilian fans can now start harbouring genuine hopes of success in Russia next year. Having the right man in charge may just be the biggest reason why.