Brazil scrapped their way to a flattering 3-0 international friendly win over France on Sunday in an ugly, disjointed match against opponents who are even worse off than themselves.
Second-half goals from Oscar, Hernanes and Lucas gave the under-fire FIFA Confederations Cup hosts a timely pre-tournament tonic in the city where coach Luiz Felipe Scolari built his reputation.
Brazil, who ended a six-match, 21-year winless run against France, had gone into the game under enormous pressure after only one win in six outings since Scolari returned for a second stint in the job in November last year.
While the result, if not the performance, will give Brazil some relief, France were left to face the long flight back from their brief South American tour reflecting on their fourth defeat in five matches this year and their fifth in 11 outings under coach Didier Deschamps.
Having rested Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery, a toothless France, beaten 1-0 by Uruguay on Wednesday last week, barely tested Julio Cesar as they completed their trip without scoring.
“We didn’t have the head nor the legs,” Deschamps told TF1 television. “We played well for 20 minutes against Uruguay and for a short period against Brazil. Even in adversity, against superior teams, we should be able to do better.”
Brazil’s win placated a restless 51,000 crowd at the Arena Gremio, which is not among the World Cup stadiums, after they had jeered forwards Neymar and Hulk during the game, but with only Oscar showing any real invention and Neymar once again struggling against a European defense, it was still a far from memorable display.
“The team is still being put together,” Scolari, fondly remembered at Gremio where he won several trophies during the mid-1990s, told reporters. “We are working to have a competitive team that will win matches.”
The teams belied their reputations as two of international soccer’s most graceful exponents, instead setting out to concentrate on nullifying each other, producing a soporific and undignified first half.
Brazil often had four players — two central defenders plus two defensive midfielders — behind the halfway line even when they were attacking, severely limiting their creative options.
The World Cup hosts’ chances mainly came from crosses into the area, which the French defense dealt with comfortably, and the occasional long-range shot which invariably went high and wide.
France occasionally looked threatening when they came forward, yet never really tested Cesar.
Brazil defender David Luiz showed his wild side as he escaped a yellow card for hacking at Karim Benzema’s leg near the halfway line and was booked shortly afterwards for a needless high challenge in midfield.
The five-time world champions, who had not scored in their previous three meetings with France, finally broke the deadlock in the 54th minute when Oscar produced a virtuoso finish after Fred’s low cross found him in the middle of the penalty area.
France had their best chance shortly afterwards, though it came from a Brazilian player when Luiz diverted a Mathieu Valbuena cross toward his own goal, forcing an excellent save from Cesar.
Scolari was jeered by the crowd when he took off Oscar in the 65th minute, yet two of his substitutes ended up on the scoresheet.
Hernanes made it 2-0 in the 85th minute with a left-foot shot from outside the penalty area which went in off the post after the ball had been teed up to him by Neymar, who was generally disappointing.