By FRANCO PANIZO
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Brazil may be known for its attacking flair from the run of play, but it was a magnificent set piece that made the difference for the Selecao for the second straight game.
Brazil defeated Ecuador, 1-0, on Tuesday night at MetLife Stadium and it was a terrifically drawn up free kick that saw Willian score the game’s lone goal in the first half. Oscar played a short pass to Neymar instead of having a direct go at goal in the 31st minute, and the Brazil captain proceed to curl the ball right into the path of a streaking Willian for a one-touch finish.
The Ecuadorians had chances to pull level in front of the 35,975 fans in attendance, but lacked sharpness in the final third. They also were a bit unlucky, as Enner Valencia was denied by the post and a goal-line clearance on each side of halftime.
“Today, we played well,” said new Brazil head coach Dunga, who is now 2-0 in his second tenure in charge of the Selecao. “The goal came because the players kept pushing and pushing to score until the final minute. That’s a positive thing.”
Brazil, looking to move past its embarrassing elimination from this summer’s World Cup, had the majority of the best chances in the South American showdown.
Neymar lifted the game’s first real opportunity just over the crossbar after making a diagonal dribbling run in the 22nd minute. He also agonizingly watched on as a free kick shot went over the wall but did not dip enough to test Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez crossbar six minutes later.
“He was playing at a very high level,” said Dunga of Neymar. “He’s got a good personality. Players react differently to being a leader and he went out there and showed he could play. This is one of the first games he played 90 minutes in since the World Cup and I thought he played well.”
The Brazilians would make Ecuador pay on the next set piece they had, executing a nicely drawn-up play.
Unlike the free kick that Neymar directly took and scored on in last Friday’s 1-0 win over Colombia, this one was played short from Oscar to Neymar. The ball was then played into the penalty area, and Willian took the ball off the bounce and buried it past Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez with his right foot.
“We have to get better with our concentration,” said Ecuador interim Sixto Vizuete, reciting his halftime speech. “… If I’m not watching the ball (as a player), I can’t anticipate the play. If I’m not looking at the opponent’s intention with the ball, I also can’t anticipate the play.
“If I were watching the game, I would have just had to be aware at the back and clear the ball. But we didn’t do it. It’s a lack of experience and concentration.”
Valencia almost offered up an immediate response, receiving a pass under a tight mark and in a seemingly harmless position before turning and smacking a low shot off the near post in the 35th minute.
Ecuador came close again just after the hour-mark. Right back Juan Carlos Paredes raced to the ball just as it was about to cross the end line and whipped in a wonderful cross that Valencia thundered towards goal. Brazil goalkeeper Jefferson got his hands on the ball but could not steer it clear, which led to left back Filipe Luis coming to the rescue with a heads-up play that saw him clear the ball off the goal line.
“Anytime you can help out with a defensive play like that, it’s good,” said Filipe Luis. “But the focus should be on the entire team’s defense and not just one clearance.”
Brazil almost put the game out of reach in the 76th minute when Everton Ribeiro received the ball on the left side of the 18-yard box and tried to float a shot over Dominguez, who just got his left paw on the ball to swat it away.
“I didn’t really see anything negative,” said Dunga. “I think I saw some good things tonight. For me, there’s only positives to talk about.”