Today we analyze and predict the final of World Cup 2022 in Qatar. If you have followed Papa’s analyses and predictions, you will note that the two teams predicted to meet in the World Cup 2022 final are Brazil and Portugal.
As of this writing, these are the squads officially heading to Qatar and from which lineups will be chosen for the match analyzed:
Goalkeepers: Alison, Ederson, Weverton. Defenders: Dani Alves, Danilo, Alex Sandro, Alex Telles, Bremer, Eder Militao, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva. Midfielders: Bruno Guimaraes, Casemiro, Everton Ribeiro, Fabinho, Fred, Lucas Paqueta. Attackers: Anthony, Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli, Neymar, Pedro, Raphinha, Richarlison, Rodrygo, Vinicius Jr.
Goalkeepers: Diogo Costa, Jose Sa, Rui Patricio. Defenders: Diogo Dalot, Joao Cancelo, Danilo Pereira, Pepe, Ruben Dias, Antonio Silva, Nuno Mendes, Raphael Guerreiro. Midfielders: Joao Palhinha, Ruben Neves, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Mario, Matheus Nunes, Vitinha, William Carvalho, Otavio. Forwards: Joao Felix, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafael Leao, Ricardo Horta, Goncalo Ramos, Andre Silva. Links=team profiles
The matchup is only the second time two teams speaking the same native language meet in a World Cup final, the first was in 1930 when Argentina and Uruguay decided the first world champion. The significance to the players is they cannot rely on yelling-out in-game instructions as their opponents would know what was coming. Both will end up relying on Brazilian and Portuguese indigenous slang and sign language to convey important messages.
The teams may not be overly familiar with one another as they do not often compete against one another, but many of the players work in Europe’s top five domestic leagues and they play against one another weekly or periodically in continental competitions. That familiarity will allow the individuals to shine in one-on-one moments and to feel confident on singular duties within strategic matchups. The coaches will similarly know of their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses as players but now have to coach against them as teams with the different chemistry and functioning those entail.
The finalists enter in different shapes as Portugal had to play extra time to win their semifinal match (against France) and Brazil did not in theirs (against England). Furthermore, Portugal are coming off two reaffirming games while Brazil played well in the quarterfinals but is coming off their down game in the semifinals. No one is thinking either set of facts is going to modify the desire of each team to win the cup, only that Brazil have to be able to kick it up several notches while Portugal has to conserve energy should the match need to be decided either toward the end of regulation or in extra time.
Both teams have guys with regular knocks and bruises but neither side is in need of substitutions due to injury. Santos and Tite both feel their starters are the way to go but are mulling options if only to put their opponents off. The question is will it affect their team more than their adversary’s?
Tite decides he needs fresher legs to start the game and though he is unwilling to risk a lot he does modify his starting lineup substantially. If Santos is paying attention, he will note there are only four changes—allowing Tite to substitute the original starters whenever he sees fit but also reserving a sub should the need to replace an injured player come up. Brazil goes out with a 4-3-3 that starts Allison in goal, Alex Sandro on the right, Alex Telles on the left, Eder Militao, and Marquinhos centrally in defense, Fred, Casemiro, and Neymar in midfield, and Gabriel Jesus, Richalrlison, and Vinicius Jr. in attack. This four-striker setup is as attack heavy as Tite has ever gone.
Santos sends Portugal out a 4-3-3 of his own with Costa in goal, Dalot, Cancelo, Dias, and Mendes on defense, Palhinha, Vitinha, and Carvalho in midfield, and Silva, Leao, and Ronaldo in attack. The Portuguese coach has determined that Brazil’s midfield is defensively strong but not as mobile or have as much pace as his two chosen smaller midfielders while Carvalho should prove a large enough center-circle plug. He decides on a three-man offense because he waited to see what Tite would do and decides the Brazilian defense must be bruised up and thus the substitutions, so putting pressure on the new starters with the speedier midfield and the pacy but physical Leao paired up with the high technical ball control of Silva nearer the goal might provide CR7 with more space to operate in, all beneficial to Portugal.
The game begins with a stadium roar followed by several minutes of back-and-forth possession where the Brazilians set camp on Portuguese soil for a stretch and then the Iberians return the favor. As the teams begin to get the measure of each other Neymar notices the Portuguese get to midfield balls more often than his teammates and he asks Sandro and Telles to move up. Ronaldo notices Silva is being marked closely so he tells his two midfielders to work up a possession triangle as often as possible with the City man to ensure one of the three of them has the time and space to start a good offensive play.
Fifteen minutes into the game Vinicius gets past his marker and Dias, the latter who misses a slide tackle and makes a beeline for the goal. Costa has to come out and cut the angle and Vini, who has made his mind up before the keeper makes his move, attempts a long chip that just grazes the crossbar as it drops in for the opening score. Portugal are taken aback as they had just had a good play in the previous possession cycle but Ronaldo’s header had been off target.
The Brazilians react as if sharks seeing blood on the water and for the next several minutes they take the action to the Portuguese. The Selecao are unable to find another chink in The Navigators’ armor, though, and Portugal soon wrestles possession and begins to take over the match. Leao and Silva hook up on the right side of the Brazilian box and as Marquinhos and Militao look ready to snuff their progress Silva finds Vitinha open on the opposite side of the box and serves a perfectly weighted pass. The midfielder’s first-time shot wrong-foots Allison and the ball hits far post side netting for the tying goal.
As the clock nears the 30-minute mark, and with the Portuguese now the sharks in possession, Casemiro’s slide tackle dispossesses Palhinha and the ball reaches Neymar who instantly sets Jesus with a pretty through ball when Portugal’s defense, and in particular their wingbacks, were far up-field. The striker gets past his own marker and reaches the goal line at about its juncture with the goalie’s box and crosses diagonally to the awaiting Richarlison who one-times a boomer past Costa.
The 1-2 score line affects the Portuguese who again felt they were in control when scored upon, but Leao makes up for a quiet half with a wonderful run that sees Ronaldo provide the dummy which releases the large striker one-on-one against Allison. The Brazilian keeper comes out in time to block the first attempt and as the bounce off his leg reaches the trailing Silva, Allison makes what seems the save of the tourney—on a full stretch dive he just grazes the ball enough to push it around the far post for a corner.
With only stoppage minutes left Ronaldo has his second good play of the match when a Silva corner sees CR7 rise above Marquinhos to head down powerfully and toward the post in front of him. The ball bounces off the pitch about three yards from the goal and at an angle toward the inner part of the post. But the ball reaches the post at the same time as Allison’s second full-stretch dive puts his hand in the way of the net-bound ball and the sphere is pushed away from goal and onto the boot of a grateful Cancelo who whirls around to clear as the whistle blows for the end of the first half. The players leave the pitch with the fans in Qatar still buzzing over having witnessed the best save of the tourney. But it is Ronaldo’s poor landing after his high-rise header that has the Portuguese bench worried.
If the second half is as compelling as the first, we might have one of the greatest cup finals ever and the TV announcers are hounding their fact-checkers for the last time a final was this exciting and well played. But as the players return to the pitch a hush seems to descend for a minute followed by a million different voices reacting to the fact that CR7 has been replaced by Joao Felix on the Portuguese team. It would be revealed later that Ronaldo pulled a calf muscle on the play and was unfit to complete his only World Cup final.
While digesting that shock, the fact that not a single yellow card has yet been issued seems to go unnoticed. It is only as the half begins that announcers make the other substitutions public, Thiago Silva and Dani Alves have come in to replace Alex Sandro and Alex Telles, rearranging the back line to allow Marquinhos and Silva as center backs, while Tite has also brought Lucas Paqueta into midfield and moved Neymar into the attack, replacing Jesus. The changes give the Selecao more defensive bite but less midfield playmaking.
The substitutions seem to be the driving force behind the action as the second half unfolds as the now more mobile Portuguese go on an all-out attack looking for the equalizer and Thiago Silva stars snuffing half of the Iberians’ forays on his own, mostly by anticipating where the ball will be next. The action is smooth as if a special match rhythm has been reached which neither team wants to interrupt with unnecessary fouls. In complementary fashion, the automated technology is working, and the ref seems in tune allowing minor transgression to go uncalled.
As the half reaches the 65-minute mark without a scoreboard modification two of the goals of the tournament are scored back-to-back. First, Neymar dribbles past three players and sets Vinicius for what should be an easy score from just left of the penalty spot. The striker’s hard drive is nevertheless beautifully leg-saved by Costa. But the long rebound reaches just outside the right side of the Portuguese box where Alves is lining up a volley. The wingback’s boot makes contact with the ball about two feet off the pitch and the resulting shot is low and perfectly placed, by the near post, and it hits the back of the net before Costa’s dive sees him hit the pitch. Brazil 3-1 Portugal.
At the 75th-minute mark, Felix gets past two markers and as he enters the left side of the box he attempts a chip over the much taller and on-rushing Allison whose jump and punch propel the ball toward the left of the far post and toward the corner. When seemingly out of nowhere, Leao darts to meet the ball with a diving header and from an impossible angle directs the ball off the pitch with a forward bounce across the goal, ahead of the sliding Marquinhos at the post nearest Leao and over Thiago Silva’s slide at the far post, for the score. Brazil 3-2 Portugal.
The teams seem to be catching their breaths for the next several minutes and it is not until the 85th that Portugal finally begins to exert control and their possession leads to a number of plays that begin in promising fashion only to die at the feet of Fred, Casemiro, and/or Paqueta. The onslaught though seems continuous because the Brazilian midfield is only able to stop the Portuguese forward progress beyond a point, but Tite’s men are unable to keep their recouped balls for very long given the speedier Portuguese midfield.
As the half nears regulation time and one minute of stoppage time is about to be announced Neymar sends Vinicius down the left wing and the striker gets past two markers and crosses just before falling beyond the goal line. His perfect cross catches Richarlison halfway between the penalty spot and the end of the penalty area in front of the half-moon. The striker heads the ball with ferocious force across the goal, back toward the direction from which the cross came. Costa is caught in no man’s land having turned to his left and now needing to spring to his right. It is too late, and he watches the ball bulge the net at a height of about a foot under the crossbar. Brazil 4-2 Portugal.
The remaining seconds fly by as the Portuguese facial expressions show they are frantic to score but their actions betray the fact that their bodies are no longer able to react. Their semifinal effort finally catches up with them and the ball seems to only find the feet of Canarinha members. The final whistle blows with Neymar in possession of the ball, and he immediately picks it up, kisses it, and puts it under his jersey, planning to take it home for his trophy case.
All the Brazilians drop to the pitch for several seconds as waves of relief and joy wash over them before they stand and look for their closest teammate to hug. The Portuguese are, to a man, kneeling on the pitch, having given all they had to give. It is Portugal’s first final, but we all saw glimpses of what their national team might be able to do with a younger generation fully in charge: say in 2030?
Tite can retire from national team duties as an accomplished record-breaking and setting coach, and his guys can go home with heads held high and their sixth World Cup trophy tucked under their arms. Neymar can now retire whenever he wants as his legacy is secure—a World Cup champion and the Brazilian national team’s all-time top scorer. Allison, the man of the match and the Golden Glove winner, can be grateful his team outlasted Courtois’.
Ronaldo must now deal with his club team issues at home but can go back to England having performed well at his fifth World Cup, breaking and setting records his future national teammates will find hard to approach, raising his market value slightly—and perhaps enough to be picked up by a top European league club—but clearly having retirement as an honorable option should he so chose. Santos has had a great run and may remain with his hands on the national team reins through the end of his contract and the 2024 Euro, but he knows this is probably his pinnacle and early retirement may be his better option.
In the end, the devil’s deal for Copa America 2021 seems consummated, Neymar can go back to PSG and simply smile at his striker teammates as they attempt to jell to go after Champions League glory. Brazil buries the ghosts of 1966, 1982, and 1998, cups they felt were theirs to take home, and 2014, a cup Thiago Silva and Neymar missed, and they psychologically tamp on the soil above the mound of 1950, ensuring that one is fully buried too. This win puts the Selecao two trophies ahead of everyone and brings South America to 10-12 on total cups won.
Photo: Brazil’s keeper Allison, Shutterstock ID 1090939127, by Marco Iacobucci Epp
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