Condemned as Brazil’s weakest squad in 60 years, the pressure is undeniably on for Scolari’s men as the road to the 2014 World Cup begins. Next year, the 20th World Cup unravels in South America, or more precisely—Brazil. The home advantage, arguably may give a morale boost for the men in yellow, or add even more pressure for such a young side to deliver on the grandest stage of them all. The last time a World Cup was hosted in Brazil, supporters were left heartbroken and distraught as it was local rivals Uruguay who came out victorious in the final so Brazil undoubtedly, will be looking to avenge those nightmares. Inspiring a Seleção to their 6th World Cup title will be by no means easy, but crashing out in the group stages simply isn’t an option for a nation looking to restore international dominance across the footballing globe.
Competing on the grandest stage should boost the Brazilian team with an extra motivation, with the echoing sounds of 96,000 fans ringing around the Estádio do Maracanã. As shown at the summer’s Confederations Cup, to which Brazil came out victorious, the surrounding crowd inspired the Seleção to a comfortable 3-0 win over the current European and World Champions, Spain. Arguably, the momentum leading up to Brazil’s first goal was brought on by the National Anthem, where it roused into Spanish ears as each Brazil fan, player and coach bellowed their national anthem with the passion and pride to spur on any side. It set the tempo of the game, and the flying start allowed Brazil to gain the early lead. Despite the controversy surrounding next year’s FIFA World Cup, with mass revolt and rampant violence invading the streets of Brazil, this was the first example of continuity Brazil have indicated leading up to next year. It was wonderful to witness such pride, at what some consider ‘glorified friendlies’, in the Confederations Cup.
Once the 2014 World Cup begins, 12 years will have passed since Brazil’s last World Cup win, back in 2002. That team, with the likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Juninho, Cafu and Roberto Carlos, worked perfectly. Cafu and Carlos as the wingbacks scampering forward, one of the best attacking tridents the competition has ever seen with Ronaldo/Rivaldo and Ronaldinho in behind, and the three-man defence including Lucio/Edmilson along with the less notable – Roque Junior. By no means the greatest Brazil team football has witnessed, but Luiz Felipe Scolari made it work. Prior to the Japan/Korea World Cup, Brazil suffered through their worst ever qualification campaign for the tournament, with big Phil only taking over in June 2001 beforehand. Perhaps, the current crop of Brazilian internationals can relate to this. Thus far, given they’ve automatically qualified and aside from the recent Confederations Cup, Brazil have only been able to feature in friendly’s highlighting the lack of competitive games a this young side has managed to participate in. Futhermore, we’re still not entirely sure what Brazil’s best starting XI is and given the World Cup is less than 12 months away, that’s rather concerning. Nevertheless, the squad, the talent, and the potential is certainly there for Scolari to produce something special.
It would be very, very difficult to suggest the 2014 Brazil squad isn’t good enough to succeed at the World Cup. The choice of midfielders in particular, from defensive to attacking, is a treat for any manager to work with. There are a wide choice of defenders too, with potential partnerships that could spark a compact, firm back four. The choice of strikers is very appealing too, with the speedy intricate Neymar or Pato, to the more direct Leandro Damiao. However, something this Brazil side definitely lacks: experience. That’s where the likes of Ronaldinho and Kaka come into effect, having already picked up a World Cup winner’s medal and being able to perform a role when called upon. The long-haired Brazilian No.10 has failed to bring the form shown with Atletico Miniero to the international stage, finding himself well down the pecking order to the likes of Oscar. Despite this, having an experienced member such as Ronaldinho can only help those who are experiencing a World Cup for the first time.
Tactical Analysis of Formations & Squad Depth
The key area in that starting XI, would probably be the 2 holding midfielders. Conveniently, it’s likely that will be Tottenham’s Midfield for the 2013/2014 with Paulinho joining the London club this summer. Sandro, who I consider the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League at this moment in time, is a brilliant tackler and a great interceptor, and is exactly what Brazil need when coming up against opposition with the quality of Germany or Spain. Paulinho, is not a defensive midfielder, but a box to box centre midfielder – something Brazil have never really had before. When Seleção fans looked on as other nations were producing the likes of Danielle De Rossi, Steven Gerrard, and Patrick Viera, players who could drive their respective team forward with gut-busting, fist-wrenching runs splitting a defence open with a mere side-footed pass or making that last ditch tackle, I can only imagine they wished they had somebody who could provide that for them. Paulinho is this man. His ability to turn defence into attack is remarkable, and the partnership of Sandro/Paulinho next Season at Spurs will give us a clear indication as to how that one will fare. Luis Gustavo, who last season collected his first Champions League Winner’s medal with FC Bayern Munich, is a great option as an alternative to Sandro. It’s difficult to choose between the two, which is the kind of headache Luiz Felipe Scolari should love having.
Brazil’s defence has always come under scrutiny for being the weakest part of their team. I’ve never understood this, given the players they’ve had. Thiago Silva is arguably, the best CB in World football today. The concern doesn’t lie with Silva, though. Brazil’s main two choices at RB would either be Dani Alves, or Manchester United’s Rafael. Neither, are brilliant on a defensive note. Dani Alves, as seen at Barcelona, is often caught out of position leaving the defence exposed. He isn’t known for his outstanding defensive ability but almost plays the right-wing role for Barca, perhaps covering his defensive flaws which only few appear to notice. Rafael isn’t much better either. Infact, it wouldn’t be too critical to say Rafael is a liability, and a rash challenger of the ball; he has no presence to which the likes of Frank Ribery will lose sleep over before a game. David Luiz, the other centre-back put alongside Thiago Silva, is in a similar position to both right-backs. His positional sense for a centre-back is appalling, he’s irrational, like Rafael a liability, and certainly isn’t a centre-back. A position more suited would be in central midfield, but that position is covered by the likes of Sandro and Luis Gustavo. His defensive flaws are disguised by the occasional wonder-goal, and I’ve always seen Dante as a better choice to have in the defence.
The attacking options speak for themselves. It is incredibly dangerous, versatile, intricate, and very quick. Lucas Moura and Hulk can play out wide in the 4-2-3-1, with Oscar as the central attacking midfielder, just behind Neymar as the lone striker. Alternatively, Neymar can be played as the attacking midfielder or forward with Alexandra Pato playing as the lone striker, or even Leandro Damiao. Young sensation Bernard, will also give big Phil a headache choosing a starting XI after consistently showing his ability. He could play in place of Oscar as the central attacking midfielder, or even on the left side instead of Hulk. Hulk’s strength, power and pace give him all the attributes necessary to ‘cut it’ for Brazil, but it doesn’t seem to happen for him. Playing every week in the Russian League will only hinder his development, and in order to aid him as a professional footballer Hulk needs to move to a more competitive league. Lucas Moura never fails to excite me, and I’m touting him to erupt in next year’s World Cup, possibly even more than Neymar. Even the likes of Fred, who proved himself to be an integral part of Brazil’s Confederation Cup success scoring 2 goals v Spain in the final boasting a Silver Boot Award for his efforts. By no means the best player in that Brazil starting XI, and certainly never going to reach the heights of his Brazilian counterparts, Fred plays an important role in his own right and will undoubtedly provide Luiz Scolari with yet another option to implant into his attacking threat.
Other possible formations Brazil could adapt to is a 4-3-3, or even a 3-5-2. For example:
Brazil genuinely could develop their own brand of tiki-taka football with the use of this formation. Sandro, in the middle of the park, would act as the defensive midfielder whilst Oscar, usually used as the CAM, with the right coaching could be utilised as the deep lying playmaker which leaves Coutinho as the Attacking Midfielder. Coutinho, in a short space of time at Liverpool, has been a revelation in their attacking threat. He really is a wizard, and I can’t help but think Neymar would thrive off Coutinho’s creativity and awareness. Neymar wouldn’t be used as the LW in this formation, nor will Moura be used as a RW, instead they will both be RF or LF with Pato as the CF. This attacking 3 is creative, deadly and will frighten defences. They are all versatile players, and so can interchange when need be meaning Neymar can swap with Pato when need be, deploying Pato at LF. Combine that front 3, with an AM such as Coutinho supporting them, along with Oscar pinging balls over the top for them to latch onto (similar to Ganso at Santos for Neymar), that is the perfect attacking threat for Brazil to improve in front of goal. Alternatively, Hernanes could be used instead of Coutinho as the attacking midfielder and Paulinho, or even Manchester City’s latest acquisition Fernandinho could be used instead of Oscar as the box to box CM’s. The possibilities with this Brazil squad are truly endless. It’s unbeknown to many how the likes of Phillipe Coutinho aren’t not picked for the Brazilian National Side, who has shown his immense capabilities since joining Liverpool, back in January 2013. With no signs of Phillpe at the Confederations Cup, it’s difficult to understand why Scolari isn’t experimenting with different Starting XI’s in preparation for next year.
A 3-5-2 formation would work equally as well as the 4-3-3, as you then have the opportunity to allow attacking-minded players such as Marcelo and Dani Alves to play RWB or LWB, respectively. Italy are a great example of how a 3-5-2 formation should work. Barzagli, Chiellini and Bonnuci, with Abate and Balzaretti as the RWB/LWB. The Midfield is bossed by the maestro that is Andrea Pirlo, with the likes of Danielle De Rossi and Marchisio alongside. In Brazil’s case, the 3 at the back could consist of Thiago Silva, Dante and David Luiz. Or, they could even place Vasco De Gama’s Dede in there who has been linked with several European clubs this Summer. Even David Luiz in a 3-5-2, could work. Sandro once again, could play the DM whilst partnered alongside with either Fernandinho, Paulinho or Fernando. Marcelo and Dani Alves will offer the width out wide, whilst the CAM could be played by Oscar/Coutinho, or even Bernard. The two upfront would be Neymar and Pato or Leandro Damiao. Noticeable absentees from that side would be Lucas Moura and Hulk, who could be used at RM or LM which would sacrifice Marcelo and Dani Alves. Imaginably, it would come down to who you are playing. The point however, remains: The options are there to use, Phil!
Crucially, Spain are the favourites going into the 2014 World Cup. La Rojas are the current World Champions, the European Champions, and the Champions of consistently being Champions. However, at international and at club level, Spain have shown Fullbacks are an integral part of their attacking movement. In particular, left-back Jordi Alba. The Spanish left-back is always on the move, and acts as the extra wide-man for Barca and Spain to utilise in their identical tika-tika philosophies. Moving forward, he has proven his capabilities in terms of putting the ball into the back of the net, or assisting the front man. Ultimately stopping Jordi Alba or at least pegging him back allows any opponent the opportunity to capitalise. Bayern Munich fulfilled that challenge in last season’s Champions League campaign, with the unlikely source of Arjen Robben putting a solid 90 minute shift in forcing Alba to retract back, whilst Italy (in their 3-5-2) also managed to do it and if it wasn’t for poor finishing, Italy would have beaten them given the chances they missed. Brazil will eye Spain as their rival – the team to stop in order to regain their 6th World Cup title, and if they are to do it, ensuring Alba is ineffective will prove crucial. In addition, the likes of Hulk can exploit Alba’s poor positional sense and lack of strength could really give Brazil the edge on that right-hand side, if they were to meet Spain.
As stated, the potential is certainly there for Scolari and Brazil to achieve something very special next year, but I fear the competition is too strong for such a young side to compete against all the way. That’s not to say Brazil will have a poor tournament, but the likes of Germany, Prandelli’s Azzurri, Argentina, and Spain themselves may prove too much to handle for the Seleção. They will surpass the group stages, and probably reach the Quarter Finals. After that, the journey will have to wait for at least another four years.