It began so well for Brazil. A trademark long-range strike from Philippe Coutinho put them in front inside 20 minutes and they appeared set for a comfortable victory over Switzerland.
But they grew increasingly frustrated as the game progressed and, following Steven Zuber’s equaliser early in the second half, struggled to break down their opposition.
It was a particularly frustrating evening for Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City forward enjoyed a successful domestic campaign and has an impressive record with the Brazilian national team. Tite, as a result, has placed his trust in the 21-year-old.
But, on Sunday, on the big stage, Jesus struggled to find his rhythm. His decision making throughout was questionable and there seemed to be a disconnect between him and his teammates.
It must, of course, be remembered that he is young and still developing; Tite would be unwise to lose faith on the basis of one poor performance.
Brazil’s coach might recognise now, however, that he has an alternative option: Roberto Firmino.
The Liverpool forward replaced Jesus late in the second half and had an immediate impact: he linked up with teammates, found space and played with a greater intensity.
Within moments he had ghosted into the box and drilled an effort over the bar. And in injury time he tested Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer with a downward header. His range was out but his ability to cause problems for opposition defences was not.
“Firmino is putting pressure on,” Tite said prior to the tournament’s start. “I have been watching him. I was at Anfield for the 5-2 against Roma. He has these virtues, he has that quality. That’s why he’s in the squad. But there is a competition.”
Tite has made clear his preference for Jesus, who scored 13 Premier League goals in 29 appearances for Manchester City last season.
There are plenty in Brazil who admire the youngster, too. His impact at Palmeiras has not been forgotten. “I think the World Cup will be his tournament,” Ze Roberto, a former Brazil international who played with Jesus at Palmeiras, has said.
“It will be the cup where he will play a great tournament and help Brazil win the title. After the generation that had Romario and Ronaldo, it’s his generation, and he will wear the Brazilian number nine shirt for a long time.”
Firmino, meanwhile, is less popular, partly because his football has been, in recent years, played exclusively in Europe. But his performances with Liverpool last season cannot be ignored. Firmino hit 15 league goals and, notably, provided seven assists for his teammates: that creativity, his ability to service, not just score, should give him the edge over Jesus.
“People say he does not score enough,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp last year. “What?! He is the best player without scoring with how well he reads the game for the benefit of others.”
“Outstanding! What if he starts thinking ‘oh, I need more goals’ and starts shooting from all over the place when usually, he would play a clever ball and make a run to open up the space?”
More than just goals
The benefit of others is precisely what Brazil needed against Switzerland. Neymar and Willian were subdued and the goal came from a moment of individual brilliance. Firmino’s intelligent movement might have created some much-needed space for the aforementioned attacking players.
Firmino is more experienced than Jesus, too; more rounded. The pressure and expectation on the shoulders of Jesus on Sunday evening was palpable.
Tite might consider starting Firmino in the remaining group games, against Serbia and Costa Rica, and assessing his performances. There is little to choose between the two, but the Switzerland draw suggested Brazil need a rethink in attack.
Firmino, no doubt, would relish the opportunity to prove himself. His familiarity with Coutinho, formerly of Liverpool, can only benefit Brazil. And refreshing an unusually stunted attack could be the tonic to Sunday’s tepid performance.
What do you think? Should Tite start Roberto Firmino? Let us know by commenting below.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?