(Over the next month or so, we’re going to be doing previews for all 32 teams participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Yes, all 32 teams. We’ll make you laugh, cry, get mad and perhaps question why you read us in the first place. We hope you enjoy the product nonetheless)
Samba, carnival and football; three commonly used words to described the country known as Brazil, who are just over a month away from hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup (Of course those three words aren’t the only words that can be used but whatever I guess). The Seleção Brasileira are looking for their first World Cup title since 2002 when the likes of Rivaldo, Cafu, a young Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos were prominent. Between 2002 and 2014, we’ve gotten in no particular order from the Brazilians: Fat Ronaldo, angry Dunga, the rise and fall of Kaka, the return of Luiz Felipe Scolari, riots in Brazil towards the socioeconomic problems that the awarding of the FIFA World Cup highlighted, and a new generation of talented footballers that Brazil is cultivating in the hopes of lifting the trophy once again.
With a team as lush of a selection sample as Brazil possesses, there’s always going to be controversy towards who was left off and who was selected for the tournament. The 23 man roster for Brazil was announced:
Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Toronto FC), Jefferson (Botafogo), Victor (Atletico Mineiro)
Defenders: David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), Henrique (Napoli), Maicon (Roma), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Maxwell (Paris Saint-Germain)
Midfielders: Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Paulinho (Tottenham), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Ramires (Chelsea), Oscar (Chelsea), Willian (Chelsea), Hernanes (Inter Milan)
Strikers: Hulk (Zenit St. Petersburg), Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk), Neymar (Barcelona), Jo (Atletico Mineiro), Fred (Fluminense)
What’s first evident with Brazil is the affinity Scolari had with the roster he used during the Confederations Cup. Numerous individuals are returning including the likes of David Luiz, Marcelo, Paulinho, and even little Bernard from Shakhtar Donestsk.
The roster selection could be argued in a number of different directions. On one hand, it’s best to have a team that has some semblance of continuity going into a international tournament where the sample size is at max 7 games if you win the tournament. We have no way on quantifying chemistry in football (or in sports generally) so there’s probably an advantage in going back to the well if there’s something left. Some of these players Scolari chose could simply outperform relative to their normal production and justify why they were selected. International football perhaps more so than club football is where destroyers can reign supreme over creators. The 2006 and 2010 world cup provided a template for that sort of thinking and the lineup Scolari could trot out would be leaning towards that. The Brazilians have the defensive midfielders and even individuals like Oscar and Willian to make this work.
Having said that, it’s a big risk to selecting guys that fit a certain mold instead of taking the best talent available. In a 3-7 game sample size, doing whatever necessary to eliminate as much variance as possible is key, and bringing about heavy talent can possibly accomplish that. Leaving the likes of Coutinho, Miranda, Filipe Luis, and the talented Lucas Moura off the squad is a risk that heightened even more when a team doesn’t do well, which is the life of being a manager with as lush a sample selection as the Seleção Brasileira possess.
This is still a quality squad that Brazil possess with Neymar, Oscar, the goliath known as Hulk and their crew of defensive midfielders. Neymar is a wonderful talent, capable of turning a game on its head with the flick of a dribble. Oscar in many ways is the embodiment of Scolari’s vision of Brazil, a solid box to box midfielder that has acted as a pseudo CAM behind the striker. Also on the squad is Hernanes, a midfielder known for his long range shooting and set pieces. Brazil boast a number of credible, athletic midfielders like Fernandinho, Paulinho and Willian. They do perhaps lack a #9 forward, are dodgy at LB, don’t have much in the way of a creative CAM (unless you consider Oscar to be that), but having a team that won’t concede much and can counter attack is a recipe that can breed success. It worked in the Confederations Cup last year to great success.
I’ve seen a couple of people on Twitter compare this Brazilian squad to the 2010 Brazil side in terms of not playing “typical Brazilian football”. Brazil truly haven’t played champagne football in a long time. People remember how Brazil lost to Holland in 2010, but Brazil arguably were very unlucky to lose to Holland in the quarterfinals, with Felipe Melo losing his mind and factoring in the luck that goes into scoring off of set pieces, especially corners. Brazil were very good until the Melo meltdown, including a master performance vs Chile in the Round of 16. Imagine how that team would look if they made it past Uruguay and had a chance at Spain in the Final.
Putting the past aside, this is Brazil’s group to lose: with Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon being their main competition. With the bracket set up the way it has, Brazil will play one of Chile, Australia, Netherlands and Spain if they progress to the knockout stage. There will be loads of pressure for Brazil to progress far into the tournament and perhaps win it all. This is a nation that has had civil unrest with the costs of the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, with stadiums that have gone through their fair share of construction, and the absurd costs that have put a strain on the economic livelihood of the country. A positive showing by the host nation can bring some emotional good to the civilians in Brazil, who’ve had to put up with the economic might that is the corrupt organization known as FIFA.
Brazil have the goods to make this a World Cup to remember, and if the Confederations Cup was any indication, they’ll have lots to say as to who holds the trophy come the end of the tournament.