Scolari happy to buck trend
Luiz Felipe Scolari (AFP)
Brasilia - Fans and commentators alike may be delighting at the avalanche of goals lighting up the World Cup but Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has vowed to make his side more defensive.
Scolari's team may have beaten Croatia 3-1 and Cameroon 4-1 on their way to winning Group A, but the hosts have not convinced and are certainly not set out to attack in the way the likes of France and Germany are.
It is hardly a surprise -- Scolari is a pragmatist and his conservative tactics will not change now that the tournament is heading into the straight knockout phase, which will surely see more teams play with greater caution.
"Now we need to commit fewer mistakes," said Scolari as he looked ahead to Saturday's last-16 tie against Chile in Belo Horizonte.
"In the group stage you can get away with slipping up once as long as you win your other two matches. Now you can't afford to because one goal can decide a match."
Scolari and the hosts, however, have been an exception to the often chaotic rule at this World Cup.
At the end of Monday's action, including the host nation's 4-1 win against Cameroon in Brasilia that took them through to the last 16, a total of 108 goals had been scored in 36 matches.
That is an average of precisely three per game, a giddy figure that has not been reached since the 1958 finals in Sweden.
Matches have sometimes been characterised by poor defending, but above all teams are playing with an attacking intent that was not witnessed in South Africa four years ago, when the average number of goals per game was just 2.27.
The attacking, error strewn football on display has gone down well with fans.
Across the country, fans have been captivated by a tournament that, as the group stage draws to a conclusion, has so far been the most exciting in a generation.
Even in Brasilia, the soulless modern capital of Brazil and a city with no genuine footballing tradition, World Cup fever has taken hold, with fans flooding to matches at the stunning National Stadium.Yet the feel-good factor does not extend to the Brazil coach.
Scolari stubbornly refuses to change the way his side plays despite criticism from the Brazilian press, and he has so far stayed loyal to under-performing players such as Paulinho and Fred, preferring instead to send out a settled team along the lines that which won last year's Confederations Cup.
The performance of Fernandinho after he came on as a half-time substitute for Paulinho against Cameroon means the Manchester City midfielder might force his way into the team against Chile, but Scolari will certainly not make sweeping changes in personnel.
And the coach will not change his team's style, as he recognises that Brazil's strength is their central defence, where Thiago Silva and David Luiz are ably shielded by Luiz Gustavo.
That, and the attacking genius of Neymar, who is to Brazil what Lionel Messi has been to Argentina.
"There have been some amazing results that show how much football has changed," said Scolari.
"It is very even now. The Argentina-Iran game showed what can happen if you have one player (Messi) capable of making the difference."
Brazil's stuttering start meant this was the first World Cup since 1978 in which they did not win both of their first two matches, but they have fulfilled their primary objective in reaching the last 16.
Scolari will feel justified and will keep faith in his tactics as a meeting with Jorge Sampaoli's Chile, with their unorthodox system, high pressing and constant attacking movement, looks set to be a fascinating clash of styles.