After an impressive campaign in the 2013 Confederation’s Cup, Luis Felipe Scolari and his Selecao side will look to win another title this summer – but, this time, it’ll be for the World Cup. Brazil is a five time champion at the World Cup – the most out of any country on the planet – and they look to embark on a sixth title with a very similar roster that soccer fans all over the world witnessed one year ago. Let’s take a look at what Coach Scolari might plan on doing with his starting eleven as they approach their first game against Croatia on June 12th.
Without a doubt, Julio Cesar will be the starting goalie for the Brazilian side at the onset of the World Cup. He has started the majority of the games for Scolari ever since last summer and has played consistently well and looks to have found that confidence he once had on Inter Milan. He’s not as young or mobile as he once was, but Cesar has made some crucial plays for the Brazilian side, especially last year in the Confederation’s Cup when he saved a penalty against Uruguay that was probably a deciding factor in their semi-final victory. It would be very surprising if we saw any one but Julio Cesar in net for the Brazil squad.
I sincerely hope that the back line will be the exact same as we’ve seen since the Confederation’s Cup and throughout the many friendlies that the Brazil side has played. Dani Alves seems like the obvious choice here with an aging Maicon as his back-up. Both players are very attacking-minded right backs, but Dani Alves is a couple steps ahead the man who started in 2010. The Barcelona right back provides speed down the flank and has the capability to mark some of the best players in the world, as he’s seen the likes of Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria and Garreth Bale several times over the last year. Don’t be surprised if Alves scores a couple of goals this tournament, as he loves to take long range shots from outside the box and hits free kicks from time to time. Let’s all take the time to remember his 90th minute dead-ball strike against South Africa in 2009; Alves also scored in a recent friendly match against Panama, where the Brazilians won 4-0.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t foresee any changes to the back four for this Brazilian side. Thiago Silva and David Luiz, now teammates for PSG, should be the starters come June 12th as they have been the most organized center backs since Juan and Lucio in 2002. Silva is coming off a minor injury, but Scolari doesn’t seem worried about his fitness or status for the World Cup. Luiz is a little unorthodox at times as we’ll probably see number 4 go up the field quite a bit and hold the high defensive line that he loves so much.
Thiago perfectly balances Luiz’s attacking-minded role because the Brazilian captain is a predominantly defensive player who communicates very well from the back line. He isn’t one of the highest paid center backs in the world for no reason and look for both to go up on corner kicks as they love to score goals in the air. If Silva’s injury is worse than expected, look for the Bayern Munich man Dante to step in that supporting role.
Marcelo vs Maxwell. I’ll take Marcelo ten times out of ten. The Real Madrid lefty has solidified his starting position with impressive performances for both his club and national sides. Just like his partner across the field, Marcelo loves to get up the pitch and create chances himself. He’s quick, powerful and an above average 1v1 defender. We’ve seen Marcelo get lost a couple of times down that left flank, but if he and the rest of the defense can stay organized and in control for 90 minutes, I don’t see them giving up many goals in the World Cup. This is the first time since I’ve been alive that Brazil’s defense is arguably better than their attack. With the likes of Spain, Germany and Belgium, one could make a valid argument that Brazil has the best starting back four in the tournament.
Center Defensive Midfield
One year ago we saw Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo start every game together in their run at a title, but this tournament might be a little different for Paulinho, as he might watch from the bench a little bit more. The Tottenham midfielder struggled at times in his first season in the English Premier League with some injuries and adjusting to the level of play from the Brazilian League to which he was accustomed. Luiz Gustavo made the bright decision to leave Bayern Munich since he wasn’t getting many minutes and transferred to Wolfsburg, where he was one of their most consistent players in the midfield. Gustavo isn’t the quickest or most talented player on this Brazilian side, but he makes smart decisions with the ball and is an excellent defender in the middle of the park.
If I were to guess on the man who is going to join him in the center defensive midfield role, I’d put my money on Ramires, a player who wasn’t even featured in Scolari’s Confederation Cup roster. The Chelsea midfielder can run for days, is ridiculously fast and anticipates steals that lead to goals in the offensive transition. One thing that never fails with Ramires is his work ethic on the pitch; he just needs to make better decisions with the ball sometimes. Ramires did start in the recent friendly against Panama, so unless something happens, look for him to join Gustavo in the midfield. Another viable option in that spot would be Fernandinho, the Manchester City man who was recently placed on the all-rookie team in the English Premier League and started the majority of his games for the crowned champions.
Center Attacking Midfield
Oscar and only Oscar. Through blog posts and other articles, it seemed as though Chelsea fans were perplexed as to why he wasn’t starting and getting many minutes towards the end of their EPL campaign, but that won’t affect how Scolari will play him. His speed, vision, consistency and defense will have him playing many minutes during the World Cup, and he’ll probably have to be the best player on the field at times if Neymar is ever struggling.
With Brazil playing such a high defensive line at times, he effectively pressures defenders in position, oftentimes forcing them to release the ball before they are ready. He’ll be the true number 10 for the Brazilian side as he’ll hope to set up his teammates with great opportunities throughout the tournament. His size could be an issue at times, which could lead to him getting beat up a little in the midfield.
Wingers and Forward
The nation of Brazil was pretty worried about whom the starting target man was going to be after Fred got injured this past winter. Then Scolari and Brazil anxiously waited on which country Diego Costa would choose to play for between Spain and Brazil. After going with the Spanish side, the number of forwards who had the skill to play in that position was slim. Fred was in the middle of recovering from his injury while Jo had a few starts for the Selecao side during friendly matches that Brazil participated in.
Jo played decently well in his starts, but wasn’t delivering the same production that we saw from Fred a year ago. Jo just doesn’t have the same scoring ability and tactical skills that Fred has so it’s a good sign that Fred started in their recent friendly match against Panama. He didn’t have the best performance and due to not playing much, his fitness didn’t look the level it should be. Look for number 9 to find ways to score goals once again.
As for the wingers, it seems as though Hulk and Neymar will start. Hulk didn’t play so well in his first season with Zenit and then struggled last summer to the point that Bernard was starting over him on a few occasions. But then his second season in Russia began and we started to see the Hulk that everyone knew from the various sensational Porto YouTube videos. He started scoring goals again and doing it with that powerful left leg of his. His speed and skill with the ball has him in the starting lineup as of now, but if he loses himself on the field like we saw him do last summer, look for Bernard or Willian to take his place on the right wing.
On the left side is the flashy Barcelona star Neymar Jr. His foot skills, vision, speed, flair and overall joga bonito ways is what the nation looks forward to seeing during the World Cup. He just recovered from a minor injury, but after his stellar performance against Panama, it seems as though everything is okay. That was probably a good opponent for a warm-up so that Neymar could acclimate himself in a game environment before the Croatia match. He will be the man that Brazil is going to lean on for goals and victories – a lot of weight to handle for just a 22 year old.