The Rio Report

The big questions left for Big Phil as Brazil squad takes shape

The Rio Report

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In just over a month, Luiz Felipe Scolari will name his provisional squad for the 2014 World Cup. On June 2, he will whittle the group down to 23 men, who will be handed the task of discharging what has come to be seen as a national obligation: winning the thing on home soil.

Brazil awaits the decision with bated breath. Every man, woman and child will have their say in the coming weeks. As bossa nova pioneer Tom Jobim once remarked, “You need balls of steel to be a football manager in a country that has 150 million of them.”

Happily for the Seleção, Felipão is not a man to doubt his convictions. He, technical director Carlos Alberto Parreira and trusted lieutenant Murtosa, have long since settled upon a formula that suits them. One senses that the three men – two of whom are already World Cup winners, of course – are not losing a great deal of sleep over their selection. Not as much as the coaches of other countries, at any rate.

The Confederations Cup was designed as a logistical dress rehearsal for World Cup host countries. But with stadium delays and stunted infrastructure hitting the headlines on a daily basis, the real legacy of that tournament is likely to be on the pitch. For it was last summer, after years of drudgery (under Dunga) and tentative, stuttering emergence (under Mano Menezes), that Brazil became Brazil again.

The majority of the squad will be maintained. Even the starting XI is unlikely to look too different from that which swept Spain aside at the Maracanã. The back five – Júlio César, Daniel Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Marcelo – is nailed on, barring injury. Neymar, Oscar and Hulk will line up behind a more conventional striker – Fred, if he’s fit.

Only in midfield could things change a touch. Luiz Gustavo was superb in his first tournament in canary yellow, earning rave reviews from Scolari and being labelled a “dream defensive midfielder” by newspaper Folha de S. Paulo. But he could well be usurped by Fernandinho, who has caught Scolari’s eye with a series of dynamic performances in the Premier League with Manchester City. The former Shakhtar Donetsk man shone in the friendly against South Africa last month and offers slightly more quality in possession, taking the pressure off David Luiz to start attacks from the backline.

There is also a small question mark over Paulinho. Regarded as a shoo-in since he first claimed a place in the side two years ago, his goals have dried up during an underwhelming first season in England. With Ramires now back in Scolari’s good books after some poor time-keeping cost him a place in the Confederations Cup squad, the Tottenham midfielder’s grip on a starting spot may be loosening.

Elsewhere, the level of competition in the squad will be higher than it was a year ago. Willian and Maicon are likely to come in for the jettisoned Jádson and Jean, while the form of Maxwell and Dante is another boon. Only up front is there a slight worry, with neither Fred nor Jô firing on all cylinders at present.

Scolari has been in Europe this last night fortnight to take one last look at some of the players hoping to force their way into his plans. Realistically, only one or two places remain up for grabs, making it likely that some or all of Sandro, Lucas Leiva, Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Moura, Hernanes and Kaká will miss out. Brazil-based players like Alexandre Pato, Leandro Damião and Paulo Henrique Ganso all appear to have missed the boat too.

Suddenly, from a position of relative weakness just a couple of years ago, Brazil have enviable strength in depth. After he negotiates the selection maze, Felipão’s next task will be to nurture the same team spirit that proved so influential last summer. For a man so adept at creating the fabled 'Família Scolari', that might just be the easier task of the two.

Jack Lang - @snap_kaka_pop

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