The Endrick and Paquetá show: What we learned about Brazil this week

Rule No. 1 of international football is not to place too much importance on friendlies. But with that disclaimer in mind, there is plenty for Brazil to be pleased about after the first two matches in the reign of Dorival Junior this week; a 1-0 win over England and a dramatic 3-3 draw with Spain.

Here are the four lessons learned from the start of Dorival’s tenure at the helm of the Seleção.

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2023 belongs to the past

This perhaps stands as the biggest benefit of the last few days. Brazil came into these FIFA dates on an unprecedented run of three consecutive defeats, leaving them sixth in South America’s World Cup qualifiers with a third of the competition played. In a domestic footballing culture where judgments can be extremely harsh, many in Brazil had forgotten how good they still can be — not least in the last World Cup, where they were very unfortunate to fall at the quarterfinal stage.

What went wrong last year was the choice of coach. Ostensibly, Fernando Diniz was appointed as a stand-in while they waited for Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti. Diniz, though, did not consider himself a stand-in, and suffered an attack of hubris. He is a very talented coach, and a very unorthodox one. His methods needed the time on the training field which is denied to a national team coach, and the team under his command were a shambles.

With Dorival there has been a clear idea of play — an idea which will be tested in future matches. But with a low block and an attempt to accelerate the game into attacking spaces, it was obvious what Brazil were trying to do. Dorival now has a Copa América to spend valuable time with his players and can do so with everyone in a calmer state of mind after these two results.

The importance of Paquetá

The West Ham United playmaker was denied to Diniz, excluded from the squad with his name involved in a betting scandal. Now he is back, and how Brazil missed him. Lucas Paquetá was a candidate to be the best player on the field at Wembley and was again fundamental to the cause in Madrid, all the way to his 95th-minute equaliser from the penalty spot.

Paquetá has as much versatility as he does quality. At Wembley it was vital that he worked back as part of the midfield block. In Madrid he began in the same midfield position, but as Brazil took off the wingers in the second half he went to play first on the left flank and then on the right. What’s more, he can even fill in at centre-forward if required.

He ended the Spain game as captain, and the chances are that he will grow still further in importance. Brazil’s low block just about got them through these fixtures — though against England the amount of fouling would have strained the patience of the referee in a competitive game, and against Spain the block was often so low that the team gave away plenty of free shots from the edge of the penalty area. But with such an inexperienced defensive unit, it was the logical course of action.

Most of Brazil’s opponents, though, will not allow Brazil to do this. They will sit deep and look to strike on the counter. Brazil will not have the space that their rapid forwards can run into. They will need more guile, and Paquetá is the leading candidate to supply it. But he must calm down. He could easily have been sent off in both of these matches, and he is no good to Brazil if he is serving a suspension.

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Are Brazil still a force to be feared in international football?

Steve Nicol looks ahead to Brazil’s trip to Wembley to face England.

Europe’s first look at Endrick

At just 17 years of age, Endrick came straight off the field at Wembley after scoring the only goal of the game and immediately talked to the Brazilian media about Bobby Charlton, raising eyebrows and winning hearts with his respect for the history of the sport. This is a young man who is being well advised and is smartly preparing himself for the pressures of the spotlight.

And the talent is undeniable.

He came off the bench in both games to score beautifully taken goals and provide little flashes of danger. All those in the stadium at Wembley and the Bernabeu will have cause to recall that they were there when Europe got its first look at Endrick.

There’s strength in depth, too

There were plenty of debutants on parade in these two games, especially in defensive positions. Brazil has become a first-class producer of goalkeepers, and Bento rose to the challenge in style, especially against Spain where he was forced into a number of fine reflex saves. Centre-back Fabrício Bruno was also understatedly efficient — both have shown that they can be counted on for crunch games in the Copa or in World Cup qualification.

Some of the others were a little more mixed — Lucas Beraldo, the other centre-back, had some awkward moments, as, against Spain, did left back Wendell. João Gomes played an important midfield role against England, covering ground and winning tackles, and perhaps took so much out of himself that he was not as effective in the second match.

But all of these players, and others who are on the fringes, will surely benefit from a fresh air of calm around the camp. Brazil return from Europe unbeaten, with honour intact and ambition undimmed.