As we are within days to the start of probably the biggest sporting event, the cloud of controversy surrounding the completion of stadiums in Brazil is finally shifting to the real action – football, and rightly so.
After a 60-year hiatus, the FIFA World Cup returns to Brazil and make no mistake, it’s a completely different ball game. Gone are the days where ‘home advantage’ makes a team the shoo-in to win the tournament; in fact, it could even be an antagonizing factor due to the enormous pressure of playing on your own turf. While it is easy to point to statistics and traditions, football is all but a game played on paper.
There is something different about the latest breed of samba boys called up to the 23-man squad. Gone are the stars of the previous decade, as players like Kaka, Robinho and Ronaldinho have all been omitted out of possibly their final World Cup as they all have past 30 years old. In fact, the squad has had even more notable exclusions in Paris St. Germain (PSG) winger, Lucas as well as Atletico Madrid defender, Miranda; both of whom have had great seasons at their clubs in the past season. Having been re-appointed as Brazil coach in 2012, the man behind the big decisions is Luiz Felipe Scolari. He has revamped the team selection in a way that the team chemistry has been the driving force for their success of late. Brazil’s most recent achievement was the 2013 Confederations Cup, in which they beat powerhouse Spain a whopping 3-0 in the final. Truly it would be tough to pick a ‘standout player’ from that final, which would have been easily been a Romario, a Rivaldo or even a Ronaldo of the past sides, but it was the collective effort of the team. When Scolari chose to pick relatively inexperienced and young players when he started his second term as manager, he drew flak; however the world can see the fruits of his labour now – with the team completing the transition into a side capable of going all the way this year.
This is a different Brazil side not just because of the players that are chosen. In fact, there’s a more important reason. The sides of the past have always been built to attack with flair; the eye-catching step overs, sensational passing and out of this world finishing come to mind. You may argue that with the latest crop, we still have that. But the significant difference is that Scolari has built a side with huge defensive stability that matches their attacking. The central defense and central midfield foursome of Thiago Silva, Dante and Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho respectively are more than capable of holding the fort, while Marcelo and Daniel Alves join in the attack.
Brazil seems to be a well-oiled machine. The samba boys are strong, right from first-choice goalkeeper, Julio Cesar – who has been a staple in the side for a few years now – right to the front, in striker Fred, they have a vastly experienced poacher who is there simply to finish off anything the rest of the team creates. Yet no matter how invincible a team seems, there always has to be a chink in the armour right? Well, their weakness can be considered to be a unique one. Brazil will only fail, if they themselves decide not to turn up; as evidenced in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups where they failed to go past the quarter-finals; a big disappointment considering the huge success of winning the 2002 World Cup.
Chosen to be the host nation, Brazil has had virtually nothing to do en route to qualifying for the World Cup. The fun finally begins for them, having been paired with Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon in Group A. The Seleção are naturally the favorites to top the group because of their home advantage and success in the tournament down the years. However, expecting any of their opponents to roll over would be a grave mistake, as all 3 countries will be vying for that second qualifying spot (should Brazil make it through first) by going for the win in each match they play.
There are many questions in our minds when it comes to the 5-time champions. Can Brazil shrug off home pressure? Will the downward trend continue or will the host-nation bring home the 2014 FIFA World Cup? Even with the expectations being as high as ever, I’m backing Brazil to add a sixth star to its badge.
Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Toronto FC, on loan from QPR), Jefferson (Botafogo), Victor (Atletico Mineiro).
Defenders: Marcelo (Real Madrid), Daniel Alves (FCBarcelona), Maicon (Roma), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich), Maxwell, Thiago Silva (Both Paris St-Germain), Henrique (Napoli).
Midfielders: Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Fernandinho (Manchester City). Paulinho (Tottenham Hotspur), Ramires, Oscar (Both Chelsea), Hernanes (Inter Milan), Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk),
Forwards: Neymar (FCBarcelona), Willian (Chelsea), Hulk (Zenit St Petersburg).Fred (Fluminense), Jo (Atletico Mineiro)
Click on Oswald’s name above to follow him on Twitter