Emulating Brazil’s 3-4-2-1 – Luiz Felipe Scolari’s 2002 World Cup Winning Tactic

This is written by guest author DylanTM and is part of an ongoing series.

Before I begin, I’d like to say that I’m heavily inspired by tactic threads made by the likes of Cleon, Ozil To The Arsenal and Herne. I’ve always loved the depth that they provide in their write-ups and their tactical know-how when it comes to Football Manager games. I’ve always wanted to do a write-up on a formation, whether it be a formation I created myself (I may write about how my Torino 4-4-2 changed to a 4-1-4-1, but I doubt many are interested) or, both more interestingly and more challenging, a historical tactic.

Obviously, there are many historical tactics that have already been created in FM. Ozil has already done an Invincibles 4-4-2, Sachi’s 4-4-2 and Cruyff’s 3-4-3 Diamond. Cleon has written at length about The Brazillian 4-2-2-2 Box Formation, and countless other pieces on various styles of football. However, I’ve found myself wanting to emulate a tactic from around the time I first started watching football.

Also, please note that I am using FM15, however feel free to try to replicate in FM16 or, if it comes out before this thread is complete, FM17.




(Note: In some images, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho switch sides. However, Rivaldo is always more advanced than Ronaldinho)

There are a number of articles showcasing Big Filipe’s tactic. The two main ones I’ve found are on thisisanfield.com (less depth) and zonalmarking.net (Zonal Marking level depth). Obviously, you’re all familiar with Zonal Marking, it is arguably the best website for tactical analysis. Of course, that is where I will be basing a lot of my information.


You can see the basic shape from the image above (courtesy of ThisisAnfield.com), however there’s a lot more than meets the eye. Here’s a passage about the defence from Zonal Marking:

Brazil’s three-man defence also worked wonderfully despite possessing the awful Roque Junior. One of the other two defenders, usually Edmilsonrather than as full-backs, meaning they scampered forward more than ever. , had the luxury of playing as wing-backs Roberto Carlos and Cafu , played as a sweeper with license to bring the ball forward from the back… The wide players,

Quite what convinced Scolari to then drop Juninho and insert Kleberson, another fairly defensive midfield player, alongside Gilberto Silva remains unclear. Perhaps Scolari had decided that Gilberto was not as mobile as Emerson would have been.

This lead to Brazil having many shapes in their defensive line: Two at the back, three at the back, four at the back and five at the back, depending on the situation. The two central midfielders then provided cover in front of the defence, with Kleberson roaming around while Gilberto holds his position.  Here are a few real life examples of this from The 2002 World Cup Final, Brazil vs Germany.


In this example, Brazil are defending with five men at the back. Edmilson has dropped back into the defensive line and both Cafu and Roberto Carlos flank Roque Junior and Lucio to form a five man defence. Gilberto acts as an invisible wall while Kleberson, the more mobile midfielder Kleberson, closes down the man in possession. He wins the ball and feeds Ronaldinho, who has dropped deep to receive the ball and launch a counter attack.


This is a bad example as you cannot see the defensive line, but right now there are 8 Brazilian players in view. This means that the three remaining players, the goalkeeper and the two defenders, are off camera. This means they’ve formed a two at the back. However, as Rivaldo has just lost possession, you can see Edmilson making his way back to strengthen the defensive line, forming three at the back.


Finally, in this example, Cafu and Carlos have dropped back to form four at the back. Another player (who I can’t recognize) sits in front of the defensive line, performing the ‘invisible wall’ role that Gilberto is so well renowned for.


We’ve already read above that the wing backs are given free rein of the wings. However, we haven’t spoken much about the attack in this line up: the trident of Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo. The Three Rs.

Before we talk about these three players, I’m going to tell you watch this video that I’ve linked below. It’s a six-minute long video showing every single goal which Brazil scored during The World Cup Finals:

Noticed something? One thing you should notice is that the large majority of goals come from wide areas. Almost all of the goals come from crosses from the wings, including two of Brazil’s most memorable goals: Edmilson’s bicycle kick vs Costa Rico and Ronaldo throwing himself at the ball to score against Turkey. Wide play and exploitation of the flanks should definitely be an instruction when it comes to replicating our tactic.

Also, while we’re on the topic of Edmilson, he has to charge forward aswell as cover back, a role which is hard to replicate in the game. I’ll cover this more in a later piece: The Defensive Midfielder vs The Half Back.

So, now I’ll quote this brief passage describing The Three R’s.

Elsewhere, the team was a joy to watch, in a free-flowing 3-4-1-2ish formation that saw as wonderful an attacking trident as the tournament has ever seen in Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. Ronaldo was the spearhead, with Rivaldo remaining in close contact, and Ronaldinho dropping deepest to collect the ball… The misconception amongst the British media is that Brazil are at their best when they possess as many creative players as possible – far from it; they have always been their best when they play a relatively rigid shape defensively that allows two or three flair players to express themselves without the worry that their failings will cost the team defensively.

The first part of the passage does not help much. After all, it is our basic shape. Ronaldinho acts as the prime creator, while Rivaldo acts as an aggressive attacking midfielder or maybe even a second striker. Rivaldo’s role will probably the second hardest to replicate behind Edmilson, as there are many roles which could replicate how he could play. Experimentation will have to be done, and I will write more about this in another part The Attacking Midfielder vs The Shadow Striker vs The Deep Lying Forward. Ronaldo acts as the most attacking player, and for such a complete player as himself, there is only one role for him.

The second passage however, notes something very important, and it does help when it comes to replicating the tactic in FM. When you use something like Very Fluid and Attacking, it makes the entire team attacking from back to front. There should only really be three attacking players, The Three Rs. The rest should be mainly focused on defending. Keeping the two central midfielders in primarily defensive positions is vital. Let the trident do the work, and then remain firm at the back. The wing backs can be used to devastating effect in attack, but they have to help out in defence to the form that 5 at the back that we want. Even the Edmilson role should be primarily defensive before supporting and attacking.


Next part, I’m actually going to start getting into the Football Manager side of things. I’ll be playing as Santos and I’ll post what tactic I’m starting with, why I’m using those roles and instructions, etc. Hopefully, ya’ll will remain interested!

2 thoughts on “Emulating Brazil’s 3-4-2-1 – Luiz Felipe Scolari’s 2002 World Cup Winning Tactic”

  1. I’ve always love that team of winners and, surely, his tactical approach.

    Brazil 02, alongside with Porto 03-04 and Roma 00-01 where my tactic references in every FM i’ve ever played.

    Thanks to DylanTM for this great piece and, of course, Cleon (one of the -imho- best tactical writters in the world of FM and, why not, world of football in the main) to publish this.

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