The Rio Report

The Brazil star who cannot afford to disappoint in Croatia opener

The Rio Report

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A sixth title is expected from Felipe Scolari's Selecao on home soil this summer. Nothing less will do.

However, with the back drop to the tournament steeped in off field issues and public protestations at the sizeable figure splashed out to host the event, the social climate could prove to be difficult to cope with for even this talented Brazil side.

Having finally come together as a team to fulfil their potential during the Confederations Cup last year with a convincing humbling of European heavyweights Spain in the final, pride was restored and hope became expectation.

Although golden boy Neymar will carry much of the weight on his young shoulders and has been charged with donning the famous number 10 jersey worn by many an icon of old, the player that is likely to start the tournament in what is now described as the number 10 role must also deliver.

At the turn of the year Chelsea's Oscar, was enjoying a glittering run of form, with six goals in his first 18 games,  and few would have questioned his inclusion in Brazil's starting line-up for their opening Group A fixture against Croatia on June 12.

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Despite his relatively tender age of 22, he had started to add a sense of maturity to his game that would serve him well on the international stage and help him manage the growing expectation of his beloved Brazil.

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However, his dramatic dip in form - that began as a minor blip - eventually engulfed the second half of his campaign in west London.

Despite being given a huge vote of confidence by his manager Jose Mourinho, who opted to sell the mercurial Juan Mata to Manchester United such was his faith in the Brazilian within a 4-2-3-1 formation, Oscar went missing.

His 22% tackle success rate was reflective of his form in his last 10 games of the season; a period in which he created just one more chance than right-back Branislav Ivanovic's 15.

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Niggling injuries may have been a factor, but he missed just three Premier League fixtures since Christmas. Form deserted him and the problem was then instantly obvious.

His Portuguese boss insisted the young midfielder had already turned his attention to the showpiece event this summer and was unwilling to harm his chances of the once in a lifetime opportunity of representing his country in what would surely prove to be a pivotal moment in the nation's footballing history.

Such distractions cannot be avoided. Players are human after all and while unprofessional, if Oscar's focus was on the World Cup he should have arrived with Scolari's squad full of zest. However, his form has been poor in the build up to the tournament, with calls for him to be dropped from the team growing louder.

Oscar has received yet another act of faith from his coach when Scolari declared: “I don't care who says that he is not playing well", insisting that it is his job and his job alone to choose the team.

His refusal to dispose of a lacklustre Oscar highlights that he, like Mourinho, is a firm believer that the 22-year-old can provide the difference in a close encounter. The tournament opener, although billed as the start of a carnival, will be such an affair.

Croatia may not be blessed with the talent of their golden generation that finished third at France 1998 but they are a threat. With Luka Modric and Barcelona bound Ivan Rakitic in their side, they possess an abundance of creativity.

But, likely to field a 4-2-3-1 come 4-1-4-1 formation they can be exploited and Oscar, with his runs between the lines and crisp passing can unlock their defence.

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Even if confidence is lacking or he is feeling burnt out due to the substantial amount of football he has played for the Blues since his arrival from Internacional in 2012, there can be no excuse. He should be at home in Brazil's 4-2-3-1 system, also employed by Mourinho and it is one in which he has thrived.

With Fred ahead of him, keen to make runs in behind, Oscar's eye for a defence splitting pass will need to be wide open. A lack of a defensive midfielder is a clear weakness in Croatia's team and he is capable of breaking free from the shackles of Modric, who is often deployed in a deeper lying role.

On either side of him he has Neymar and Hulk, two outstanding footballers that possess the skill and craft that Oscar can link and interchange with at will. A fine finisher himself, if gaps appear he must drive forward and let shots fly.

Behind him Oscar will have two accomplished midfielders, in Fernandinho, Luis Gustavo or Paulinho, that will provide the engine and drive to push the team forward. The system is set up to Oscar's strengths.

In the central role, his contribution is vital. Having been given the benefit of the doubt throughout his run of poor form, Oscar cannot afford not to deliver.

The first game of the tournament will shape how Brazil's team is received and regarded by their rivals and adoring home public. Anything less than a positive result and performance could dent confidence.

If Oscar lets Scolari down, he is unlikely to be given another opportunity.

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