A testing World Cup qualifier in the rarefied heights of Quito will provide a tough baptism for new Brazil coach Tite.
New Brazil coach Tite has to climb the mountain to be thrown into the deep end.
There is no time for warm ups or rehearsals. His first game in charge is a crunch World Cup qualifier away to Ecuador, second in the table and always strong at the altitude of Quito.
Brazil lie sixth, outside the qualification places. There is very little time to train before the players take the field. Many were in action in Europe at the weekend. They cross the Atlantic and kick off in Quito on Thursday afternoon.
As in the previous campaign, all the matches are played in double headers. But last time the games were staged on Friday and Tuesday. This time it is Thursday and Tuesday – so there is more time between games, but precious little time in the run up to the first one, which is clearly difficult for the four new coaches who have taken charge since the Copa Centenario – as well as Tite, the other debutants are Edgardo Bauza of Argentina, Bolivia’s Angel Guillermo Hoyos and Francisco Arce of Paraguay.
Brazil have struggled in every recent visit to Quito, and Tite has made a change from the normal way that they, and many visiting sides, approach the game. Standard practice has been to prepare at sea level, and move up the Andes as close as possible to kick off time. The medical evidence would seem to suggest that this minimises the effects of the conditions. But there are obvious disadvantages. It creates a monster in the mind of the players, and it is hard on the goalkeeper, who has no time to adapt to the quicker trajectory of the ball. Tite, then, has chosen to give priority to technical adaptation, taking his players to Quito as early as possible so they can get used to the conditions.
It was not an easy squad for him to call up, coming as it does at the very start of the European season, when key players have not yet acquired a full competitive rhythm. So Tite chose to take advantage of the fact that the Olympic squad have been in action. The list was drawn up before the Olympic semi final against Honduras, and so the appearance of 7 players from coach Rogerio Micale’s Rio 2016 squad (since reduced to six by the injury to centre back Rodrigo Caio) is not a direct consequence of the gold medal. Names such as Neymar, Renato Augusto and Marquinhos were certainties anyway, and goalkeeper Weverton and striker Gabriel Jesus have been promoted, along with left footed attacker Gabriel Barbosa, who went to the USA with the Copa squad.
As the Olympic team improved through their campaign, they managed to field four front players while remaining compact – and the emphasis on maintaining a compact team has been one of the hallmarks of the recent work of Tite. But will they be able to do it on Thursday?
It was one thing staying compact against Germany in the Olympic final. The opposition had little attacking pace to play the ball behind the Brazilian defensive line. Ecuador at altitude are a vastly different proposition. They look to stretch the game out, with Cristian Noboa from centrefield pinging out diagonal passes for the team’s rapid wingers. They will miss the suspended Luis Antonio Valencia and his blend of pace and power. But they have plenty of pacey right wingers to call on, and the trickery of Jefferson Montero on the other flank can make him a right back’s nightmare.
It is a tough debut for Brazil’s new coach. A first game defeat, leaving Brazil further off the qualification places, would mean that the feel good morale boost of the Olympic win will soon evaporate in the rarefied air.