Road to the World Cup – Brazil
With the football World Cup, 2014 a couple of days away Tamal Kanti Santra looks into the preparations of the host nation and the options available with Scolari to give Brazil the best possible chance in winning their 6th trophy.
“Only three people have ever silenced 2,00,000 people at the Maracana with a single gesture: Frank Sinatra, Pope John Paul II and I.” –Alcides Ghiggia, scorer of the winner in the decisive final round match against Brazil helping Uruguay win the 1950 football World Cup.Generations have passed since the 16th of July, 1950, but the Seleção faithfuls still remember each and every moment of that eventful day. The decisive goal from the Uruguayan Alcides Ghiggia shattered the hearts of millions of Brazilians who dreamt of lifting the FIFA World Cup trophy in their backyard. 63 years on, the fire stills burns within the Pentacampeões to lift the coveted trophy in front of their home crowd. As the World Cup returns to the Mecca of Football after 64 years, the Brazilians have got another opportunity to fulfil their dream.
After a string of disappointing performances in consecutive World Cups in Germany, 2006 and South Africa, 2010, the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (CBF) required a proper roadmap to give the Brazilians a decent chance of lifting their sixth trophy in Brazil. As Carlos Dunga resigned after the quarter-final exit in South Africa, the reins of the Brazilian National Team were handed over to the then Corinthians coach, Mano Menzes. The Brazilians progressed little under him. The fans did not find his football attractive enough. Finally, after a disappointing couple of years, compounded with a series of poor performances in the Copa America, 2011 and London Olympics, 2012, Mano Menzes was shown the door on November, 2012. With less than two years remaining for the World Cup, the Brazilians were in disarray. After a lot of deliberations, Luiz Felipe Scolari was appointed as Brazil’s new manager on November28th, 2012. The legendary Carlos Alberto Parreira, coach of the 1994 World Cup winning Brazil team is also assisting Scolari as the technical director. People expected a lot from Scolari. The last time Brazil won a World Cup in Japan-South Korea, it was under the veteran Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Being the host nation, Brazil automatically qualified for the World Cup, 2014. The only effective way of measuring their progress was a few remaining international friendlies and the Confederations Cup, 2013. With very little time in hand, Scolari started rebuilding the team. His first match as the coach of Brazil saw the team slump to a 2-1 defeat to England. Leading up to the Confederations Cup in June, 2103, Brazil dropped to their lowest ranking ever, 22.
A very few believed the Brazilians could defend the Confederations Cup against the mighty Spaniards. However, their performance in the tournament surprised a lot of people. They reached the knockout stage defeating Japan, Mexico and Italy convincingly. In the semi-final they defeated the Copa America champions Uruguay. The final was a mouth-watering clash against Spain. The Brazilians dismantled the Spaniards with relative ease. A mesmerizing performance from Neymar along with a couple of goals from Fred saw the Spanish slump to a 3-0 defeat. Neymar was adjudged the player of the tournament.
In the Confederations Cup the Brazilians gelled as a team and the fans saw how destructive this bunch of players can be if they played up to their full potential. The magic of Scolari seemed to work again.
The Current Squad
Goalkeeping has always been an area of concern for the Brazilians. The current first choice keeper Julio Cesar, 34, performed well in the Confederations Cup. He was named the best goalkeeper of the tournament. However, the recent developments around him have been an area of concern. With QPR getting relegated to the Championship and Julio Cesar failing to secure a move away meant he won’t be playing in a more competitive league which would have helped him to be on top of his game. He was not even guaranteed a first team place in QPR. Eventually he was loaned out to Toronto FC in Canada. Jefferson, 30, captain of the Brazilian club Botafogo FR is a strong contender for the number one spot. He has been a consistent performer in the Brasileirão and features regularly in the Brasileirã, Team of the Year. Victor, 31 from Atlético Mineiro was selected for third goalkeeping position in the final 23-man squad.
The core of the defence has been built around Thiago Silva and David Luiz with Daniel Alves on the right and Marcelo on the left. Thiago Silva, 28, from PSG has been leading the Seleção for the past couple of years. His performances with AC Milan made him a transfer target of the top European clubs. But, he made a shock move to big spenders PSG in 2012. PSG lead by Thiago Silva was crowned the champions of France. The French League is not the most competitive league in Europe. The UEFA Champions League was the only place where he could test his defensive skills against the top clubs of Europe. David Luiz, 24 from Chelsea was one of the star performers for Brazil in the Confederations Cup. His goal-line save in the 3-0 triumph against Spain was spectacular. His ability to adapt to the centre half or the central defensive midfield position makes him a good addition to the squad. He even took some wonderful free-kicks for Chelsea. But, he is not one of the strongest defenders in the world football. For Jose Mourinho, David Luiz is not his typical no-nonsense center back. However David Luiz strengthened his defensive skills under Mourinho in a more physical English Premier League and helped Chelsea keep 18 clean sheets (highest in the league) and concede only 27 goals (lowest conceded in the league).
Dante, 30 from Bayern Munich & Henrique, 27 from Palmeiras are the other options for the centre back position. Dante played an instrumental part in Bayern’s 2013 Champions League triumph. His regular appearances for Bayern under Pep Guardiola in the Bundesliga helped him strengthen his defensive skills. He is now regarded as one of the finest defenders in Europe. Henrique from Napoli in the Brasileirão is a formidable centre back who can also double up as a central defensive midfielder.
Marcelo, 25 and Daniel Alves, 30 are the two first choices left and right wing-backs for Scolari. Marcelo for Real Madrid has been a consistent performer. His ability to move forward through the wings makes up for his lack of defensive skills. He has consistently been used as an attacking option through the left wing. Alves is a key member of the Barcelona squad. He is equally good while defending or moving forward. His exploits on the right wing and ability to provide accurate crosses in the box makes him Scolari’s first choice wing back.
Maxwell, 32 from PSG and Maicon, 33 from AS Roma are good options with Scolari for a more defensive left and right wing-back position. Maxwell has also played as left defender during his tenure with Ajax, Inter and Barcelona and also brings in vast experience of playing at the highest level for the top clubs of Europe. Maicon, after his move away to Manchester City from Inter Milan, failed to live up to the expectations. He struggled to get in the starting eleven and finally moved away to AS Roma, Italy in 2013 to have regular playing time. He helped AS Roma to a second place finish in the Italian Serie A 2013-14 season. He prefers the right wing back position and was called up for the international friendlies against Australia and Portugal.
Traditionally Brazil has produced some of the finest midfielders in the history of the game. The current crop of midfielders are good, but they are not of the class we have witnessed in the recent past. With Ronaldinho and Kaka nowhere near their personal best, the midfield was becoming an area of concern where the Brazilians traditionally excelled. With limited resources Scolari started working on the midfield. Ramires, 26 from Chelsea, Paulinho, 25 from Tottenham Hotspur & Luiz Gustavo, 26 from Wolfsburg are entrusted upon with the defensive midfield duties. Ramires is a regular in the Chelsea squad and has the ability to accelerate swiftly to begin an attack. His speed and agility gives him the ability to fall back quickly and land crucial interceptions to break any attack. Paulinho’s impressive performance in the Confederations Cup interested a lot of top European clubs. He finally secured a move to Totenham Hotspur from the Corinthians in 2013. His box-to-box movement and powerful running makes him a complete midfielder. Luiz Gustavo played a very important role in the Confederations Cup final against Spain. His strength in the air and ability to break attacks did not allow the Spanish midfielders to get into a rhythm. He also played a crucial part in Bayern Munich’s success last season. Bayern’s recent purchases forced him to move away to VfL Wolfsberg to have regular playing time. The impressive performance of Fernandinho, 28 as a defensive midfielder for Manchester City forced Scolari to include him for the International friendlies against South Africa and Croatia. His wide range of passes along with his ability to play box-to-box gives him the capability to participate in attacks as well as the defence.
The attacking midfield is headed by Oscar, 22, from Chelsea. Oscar is one of the finest midfielders in Europe. His quick accurate passing, sleek movement in the box and dribbling skills makes him a potent weapon to complete an attacking move. He has successfully cemented his place in the Brazilian starting line-up. Hernanes, 28, from Internazionale, Bernard, 21, from Shakhtar Donesk and Hulk, 27, from Zenit Saint Petersburg are the other options in the attacking midfield. Although Hulk plays as a centre forward for his club, Scolari uses him as a right attacking midfielder. His is now linked with a move to Chelsea in the English Premier League Hernanes, who played for Lazio and Inter last season, is a seasoned professional. Hernanes mostly plays from a central attacking position and has the ability to lay out accurate passes to the wingers. Bernard is the most promising player of the lot. He possesses quick feet and is an excellent dribbler of the ball. Bernard brings in a lot of pace from the right wing and can easily penetrate strong defensive line-ups with ease. He has already secured a €25 million move to Shakhtar Donetsk away from Atlético Mineiro. Willian, 25, from Chelsea has been a revelation. He has been a work horse for Mourinho. His fast and penetrating runs from the wings helped Chelsea unlock stubborn defensive line ups. His willingness to help his team even in the defense makes him a classic Mourinho favourite. His recent exploits with Chelsea as already earned him a position in the final 23-man Brazilian squad for World Cup, 2014.
Fred, 29, from Fluminense is the first choice. He is the typical striker, always exploiting spaces between defenders in the box. His physical power allows the midfielders to use long balls in an attack. His recent injuries ruled him out for three months and have created a problem for Scolari. A record 44 goals from Fred helped Fluminense clinch the 2012 Campeonato Brasileiro Série A. The other options for the strikers are Jo and Pato. Jo, 26, from Atlético Mineiro plays as a cover for Fred. With the limited opportunities he got he displayed great skill and composure and scored important goals. Alexadre Pato, 24 from the Corinthians is a talented technical striker, but has consistently under performed. He has recently been called up to the Brazilian squad due to an injury to Fred. With Fred recovering from his injury, Pato was finally left out of the final Brazilian squad. The developments around Diego Costa are quite interesting. Diego Costa has been instrumental in the success of Atletico Madrid in the current season and gradually established him as a striker in the Brazilian national team. He made his debut for Brazil on March 2013 against Russia. However, his willingness to play for Spain in the World Cup instead of Brazil prompted Scolari to express his displeasure.
The 21-year-old prodigy from Santos is the most talked about player in recent times. Amid intense speculation he finally moved to Barcelona in the summer of 2013. Scolari built the Brazilian Team around him. He prefers a position on the left wing but has been given the freedom to play a broader role in building attacks. His exceptional dribbling skills along with his clinical passing and creativity have been instrumental in Brazil’s recent success. He started the Confederations Cup with a stunning volley and capped it off with another brilliant performance in the final against Spain. He continued is impressive performance against Australia and Portugal. Neymar’s blistering pace and ability to spread quick passes makes him extremely dangerous against opponents. His recent involvement with Barcelona gave him an opportunity to work with some of the best midfielders of recent times along with one of the best players of all time, Lionel Messi. Although he did not have a great season with Barcelona, this experience in Europe would help him immensely in preparing for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The recent development in the Brazilian squad under Scolari is a positive sign for the Seleção. Scolari has managed to take the team in the right direction. In such a short span of time he guided the team to a third consecutive Confederations Cup victory. The continuous improvement in his squad was visible in the international friendlies against Australia, Portugal and Chile.
With a pool of talented players, Luiz Felipe Scolari has managed to transform the Brazilian National Team to a formidable force. The recent international friendlies against Switzerland (0-1 defeat), Australia (6-0), Portugal (3-1), South Korea (2-1), Zambia (2-0), Honduras (5-0), Chile (2-1) and South Africa (5-0) are a proof of the progress they are making under Scolari. Scolari revealed is final 23 man squad on 7th May with only 2 friendlies remaining against Panama and Serbia. The Brazilians regrouped after three months since their last match against South Africa. However, they were right on top of their game against Panama where they won 3-0. Neymar was again the star of the match where he scored one and assisted one. Hulk, Dani Alaves and Willian also scored one each. The match against Serbia displayed another very important side of this Brazillian squad. The found it very difficult to work the Serbian midfield and defence, but they persevered and kept their composure. They took their time to play the ball around and finally broke the deadlock with a solitary goal from Fred with an assist from Thiago.
Scolari worked his magic again. He managed to build a closed-knit team from the same bunch of players who were struggling to play some quality football less than 2 years back. Scolari converted his 23 players into a happy team where the players are enjoying each and every moment with each other on and off the field. They have truly established them as the favourites for the tournament.
Brazil has suffered a lot while trying to organize the World Cup, 2014, touted to be the greatest show on earth. People have objected to the exorbitant amount spent preparing for this gala event while a vast majority still lacks the most basic infrastructure to get through the day. Amidst all this chaos, the millions of Brazilians once again are dreaming of seeing their team winning the coveted trophy in Brazil. The euphoria of seeing their beloved team lift that trophy in Brazil will be worth all the hardship endured.
Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Toronto FC), Jefferson (Botafogo), Victor (Atletico Mineiro)
Defenders: Marcelo (Real Madrid), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Maicon (AS Roma), Maxwell, Thiago Silva (both Paris St Germain), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich), Henrique (Napoli)
Midfielders: Paulinho (Tottenham Hotspur), Ramires, Willian, Oscar (all Chelsea), Hernanes (Inter Milan), Luiz Gustavo (VfL Wolfsburg), Fernandinho (Manchester City)
Forwards: Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk), Neymar (Barcelona), Fred (Fluminense), Jo (Atletico Mineiro), Hulk (Zenit St Petersburg)