2014 World Cup Group A team previews: Brazil
With a passionate crowd behind them, a savvy coach and a settled team enjoying a sparkling run of form, Brazil are hot favourites to lift a record sixth World Cup in July.
After their quarter-final defeat to the Netherlands four years ago, coach Dunga was replaced by Mano Menezes who reshaped the team and gave debuts to young, agile players, such as Neymar, Oscar, Fernandinho and Paulinho.
In turn Menezes made way for old favourite Luiz Felipe Scolari in December 2012 and the man who guided Brazil to their fifth World Cup triumph in 2002 has since added both steel and guile to the undoubted flair in the squad.
Crucially he rallied fans behind the team and, in just six months, turned Menezes’s callow group of youngsters into one capable of great things.
The way they waltzed through the Confederations Cup last year, defeating Uruguay and Italy on the road to a 3-0 final drubbing of world champions Spain, was unforgettable and instilled a belief in the side that has been missing for the best part of a decade.
Brazil have won seven games in a row and 13 of their last 14, and fans no longer wonder whether they can win the competition, they are expecting it.
The worry is whether they have peaked too early.
No team have won the World Cup after lifting the Confederations Cup a year previously. Brazil won the dress rehearsal tournament in 2005 and 2009 but a year later experienced crushing disappointment.
Another pertinent question is how will they respond to the pressure of playing the World Cup at home in front of passionate fans desperate for success?
While every member of the 23-man squad has European experience few will have encountered the expectations about to be heaped on their shoulders.
“It’s different,” said Juninho, the former Vasco da Gama, Atletico Madrid and Middlesbrough midfielder who took home a World Cup winner’s medal in 2002. “There’s much more pressure. Representing your country is more important.”
The only other time Brazil hosted the World Cup was in 1950 when the home side lost the final match to Uruguay.
That defeat scarred the nation and the enormous pressure to finally lift the trophy at the Maracana could be an issue if the team start slowly in their opener against Croatia and anxious supporters get on their backs.
So far, at least, the players do not appear overawed.
The good run has left them brimming with confidence and with good reason – they scored 25 goals in the past seven games, conceding only two. Five of the seven teams they faced had qualified for the World Cup.
“We’ve ended this preparation phase perfectly,” Thiago Silva said after the team’s latest friendly, a 5-0 drubbing of South Africa in March.
“We were unbeaten in winning the Confederations Cup, we did what Felipao asked of us in this match and I am certain we’ll do a great job in the World Cup.”
That confidence is not misplaced, but it must be accompanied by humility if there is to be no repeat of 2006 when, delirious with the form of the Four Rs (Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos), Brazil thought the tournament would be a walk in the park.
Instead they crashed out in the quarter-finals to France.
Scolari has repeatedly and boldly declared Brazil will win the World Cup.
The feeling at home is the tournament is theirs to lose.
A nation expects.
Five to watch:
Dani Alves, right-back (Barcelona); age 30; 73 caps. First choice for Brazil under the past three managers, he is one of the most experienced squad members. Of the non-Spaniards to have represented Barcelona, only Lionel Messi has played for the Catalan club more times.
Thiago Silva, centre-back (Paris Saint-Germain); age 29; 45 caps. Probably the most improved Brazil player from the squad that went to South Africa. His commanding performances for AC Milan won him a big-money transfer to PSG in 2012 and his form is such that Paolo Maldini declared him the best in the world. Will wear the captain’s armband for the hosts.
Paulinho, midfielder (Tottenham Hotspur); age 25: 25 caps. Has had a huge impact over the past two years for club and country. His box-to-box presence helped Corinthians lift the Copa Libertadores and the Club World Cup for the first time and earned him a transfer to Spurs where he has impressed at times but is not fully settled. He is one of the first names on Scolari’s team sheet. Won the bronze ball as the third best player at the Confederations Cup.
Oscar, midfielder (Chelsea); age 22; 29 caps. Only young but clearly relishes the big stage. Netted a hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Portugal in the 2011 Under-20 World Cup final and scored twice on his competitive debut for Chelsea in a Champions League game against Juventus. His ability to feed and link up with forwards Fred, Hulk and Neymar will be vital.
Neymar, striker (Barcelona); age 22; 47 caps. Despite his youth he is the team’s undeniable box-office attraction. Has struggled to find his feet at Barcelona but will be a better player for coming up against the best defenders in the world. His 30 goals in 47 internationals are testament to his talent and if Neymar plays well, Brazil will be hard to beat.
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Published: May 20, 2014 04:00 AM