The Brazilian national football team, or as they are more popularly known in their homeland ‘the Selecao’, are once again favourites going into the most famous and sought after competition in world football. But all has not been rosy in recent years for the five time world champions. Since the 2-1 defeat to Holland in South Africa, there have been major changes within the Brazilian camp. Most notably, the manager. After Dunga, Brazil’s captain in 1994, failed to improve on the teams quarter-final exit four years earlier, in came Mano Menezes. However a lacklustre Copa America followed by a rather embarrassing defeat to Mexico in the 2012 Olympic final meant that the clock was ticking as fast as ever for the former P.E teacher. Sure enough, his time ran out. Mano Menezes was sacked after just over 2 years into the job. At this point, Brazil had dropped out of the top 10 of the FIFA Rankings, their lowest position since they began. Clearly something needed to change.
For the next appointment, the Brazilian football federation thought it necessary to choose substance over style, the appointment of Luis Felipe Scolari indicated that Brazil were in fact, in trouble. And Scolari was certainly the man for the job. After all, he had led Brazil to the title 10 years previous, albeit with far greater array of talent at his disposal.
Over a year and four months from Scolari’s first game back in charge, things could not look any different. Since falling to 22nd in the FIFA Rankings last June, Scolari has turned the Brazilians fortunes on its head. And an impressive victory over World and European champions Spain in the Confederations Cup final highlighted just how impressive his short tenure has been.
Since ‘Big Phil’s’ reappointment, further flexibility has been added to the Brazil XI, with the former Chelsea coach opting to play his favoured 4-2-3-1, switching to 4-3-3 when he feels necessary.
The captain, Thiago Silva, arguably the world’s finest centre-back marshals a back four with partner David Luiz, and fullbacks Marcelo and Dani Alves. Sitting in front of them , occupying the deeper role of the two holding midfielders is Wolfsburg’s Luiz Gustavo. His ability to read the game and agility has made him a key, perhaps underrated component in Felipão’s outfit. Along side him, Paulinho. The Spurs man offers versatility within the system, capable of joining the forwards in attack, while being able to defend just as comfortably.
Playing the position popularly known as the no.10 is Chelsea star Oscar, however his role is far from free. Oscar’s tenacity and work rate is the real reason he has been able to tie down his starting spot under Scolari. The Chelsea man is key in Brazil’s pressing game, leading tirelessly from the front.
On the left hand side in Brazil’s trio of attacking talent is the star man, Neymar Jr. Who is given a free role to dictate proceedings as he see’s fit. The Barcelona star is the man people flock to see, the shoulder of responsibility that so many rely on. Neymar has formed a formidable partnership with full back Marcelo who offers a continual attacking threat down the left flank, allowing the winger to drift centrally and have a more positive impact, something which has contributed to his 30 goals in just 47 games for the Seleção.
Cementing his place on the right wing is Zenit St Petersburg’s Hulk. A string of impressive performances has seen him continually picked by Felipão, despite strong competition from youngsters Bernard and Lucas Moura. Unlike his team mate on the opposite wing, Hulk has a more subdued role in the side, often dropping deep to help his fullback Dani Alves. As well as adding a more physical presence to Brazil going forward.
Leading the line for Brazil is Fluminense striker and former Lyon man Fred, an athletic and imposing figure, that looks to continually free space for his team mates around him. A formidable goalscorer too, Fred has a great eye for goal, and given a chance, you would expect him to take it.
But with Fred having been injured more often than not since his heroics last summer, Brazil suddenly find themselves wanting in the attacking third. Unable to find his old form, this perhaps is the most worrying aspect in terms of the Brazil 23 man squad. With many of the opinion that former Man City and Everton striker Jô is not of the right calibre to lead his host nation to ultimate glory in July. With Scolari having also opted not to include Robinho, who had given Brazil variation upfront when they faced Chile last November, deployed as a false 9. It leaves the Seleção seriously short of options. And an injury to their target man will surely prove problematic to say the least.
Brazil’s line up and style under Scolari is somewhat different to what you would normally expect to see from Brazilian teams of the past. There may not be the individual skill that many of the famous sides down the years have shown , however their greatest asset is their work rate, and ability to function as a team. Brazil press tenaciously from the off, looking to start the game on the front foot and control proceedings early. Something which was highlighted during last summers Confederations Cup, which saw the side score inside the opening 9 minutes in 3 of their 5 games. Key to this system is the trio of midfielders in Oscar, Paulinho and Gustavo who endlessly close down and pressurise their opposite numbers.
When Phil Scolari named his 23 players in Rio del Janeiro, in front of over 700 journalists for this years tournament, it didn’t really come as a surprise to many followers of Brazil. The same solid core remained from the previous years triumph, as expected the starting line up from the 3-0 drubbing of Spain will likely kick off the tournament on June 12th in Sao Paulo. However, there may have been one name that not all football fans may be familiar with. That of Napoli’s Henrique. With only 4 appearances for his country to date, people were right to question such a decision. However it seems there is method, in what some would say, Scolari’s madness. The versatile defender was captain under Scolari in Palmeiras’ Copa do Brazil triumph of 2012, a player all too familiar with ‘Big Phils’ methods. Their was to be no last minute call ups for Atletico Madrid pair of Felipe Luis or Miranda. Or indeed the rejuvenated Kaka, and Liverpool’s duo of Lucas Leiva and Phillipe Coutinho.
Thiago Silva & David Luiz | The duo of Captain Thiago Silva and David Luiz have formed a superb understanding at the heart of Brazil’s back line. Both are physically strong defenders, dominant aerially, and wear their heart on their sleeve. Giving Brazils defence a new dimension. The ex-Benfica man adopts an extremely attacking position, looking to get on the ball when possible, while covering for Marcelo’s runs down the left flank, leaving the captain to sit deeper, read the game, and dictate the positions of his men.
Luiz Gustavo | He currently holds down the position of defensive midfielder, the disciplined cool head at the heart of the side who’s work often goes unnoticed. Gustavo keeps the ball ticking over, with sharp accurate distribution leading to quick counter attacks. The Wolfsburg man also effectively fills the hole left by Luiz who often covers for roaming left back Marcelo, with the side often switching to something resembling 3 centre backs at times.
TALENT RADAR KEY YOUNG PLAYERS
Neymar | It’s not easy for a footballer to carry the burden of expectation that Neymar is at the moment. He is under tremendous pressure to lead Brazil to a World Cup triumph and exorcise the demons of Maracanazo. This may weigh him down, or drive him to improve his game even more. One can only hope it’s the latter, because if Neymar strikes form, defenders of a lot of teams are in deep trouble. His pace, trickery, skill, and shooting make him one of the best players in world football.
Oscar | If Mourinho is to be believed, Oscar’s end season form was a product of fatigue and distraction due to the World Cup. With a short break after the club season, Oscar should be raring to go now, for a tournament that he is apparently excited about. He carries the weight of a lot of expectations, not least because of the number he wears on his back, but Oscar is a player who is tactically aware, hard working, and very skilled. Don’t be surprised to see him ensuring a steady flow of ammunition to the likes of Neymar and Fred, as he will work hard to break down the opposition defence. He has a pretty decent shot as well, and wont be shy to putting it to use when it is needed.
Bernard | is the player who falls in this category, and is one of the exciting ones that we can look out for in the coming tournament. The Shakhtar Donetsk man is an attacking player, who plays just behind the main striker. Though he will mostly be confined to a role from the bench, Bernard is a talent that is one to watch out for in the future. His cameos might just prove to be helpful for the host nation. Here’s a detailed Scout Report on Bernard.