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Sambafoot Sunday: Henrique Included in Scolari's World Cup Family

Henrique in action for Palmeiras
Action Images
Explaining one of Luis Felipe Scolari's surprise selections after last week's World Cup squad announcement.

Sambafoot Sunday by James Nalton. The beat goes on...

For followers of the Seleção, and especially for followers of their manager Luis Felipe Scolari, Brazil’s 23-man squad for the World Cup threw up few surprises.

In-form players were left out in favour of the manager’s personal favourites, with the likes of Robinho, Kaká, Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Moura, Lucas Leiva, and Diego Cavalieri failing to make the final cut.

Impressive Atlético Madrid pair, Miranda the centre back, and left back Felipe Luis were surprise exclusions given their form this season, but Scolari selected players he knows and trusts, rather than those who happened to come into form at the right time.

Football fans around the world might still be confused by Brazil’s failure to secure the services of prolific Atlético Madrid striker Diego Costa, who will now play for Spain having never been called up by Brazil for a senior competitive game. This looks like an especially strange state of affairs when you consider Brazil’s back up to the much-loved Fred in the number nine position, consists of Jô and…. erm.

Last week’s Sambafoot Sunday took a wild guess at Scolari’s final squad, and was incorrect on two counts. The big man opted for Hernanes as his wildcard rather than Robinho, preferring to add more options to the midfield rather than in attacking areas.

The second error, and the big surprise initially, was the inclusion of Napoli defender Henrique over a whole host of players who were in the running for that fourth centre back spot. Réver, Dedé, Miranda, Luisão, and the player picked in last weeks column, Marquinhos, all missed out thanks to Henrique's inclusion, leaving onlookers asking why? Why indeed.

To start with, Henrique offers a versatility and an ability to cover two or three positions. For Napoli this season he’s played at right back, as a defensive midfield anchorman, and in what is considered to be his more natural position at centre back.

In contrast, Marquinhos has played all his games for PSG as a centre back, until yesterday when he appeared in his team’s final league game at right-back. This appearance at right back was almost a retort to his exclusion from Scolari’s squad and a demonstration of his own versatility, which ultimately came too late.

However, Henrique’s ability to fill in for Luiz Gustavo in the deepest midfield position would have been a main reason for his inclusion. As the BBC’s South American football correspondent, and Sambafoot columnist Tim Vickery commented to me on twitter, Scolari might not quite trust Fernandinho to play this role so calling up Henrique gives him another option here.

Another reason for this trust in Henrique will be that he played for Scolari at São Paulo based club Palmeiras during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He was snapped up from Barcelona, initially on loan and then on a free transfer, after the player failed to convince the Catalan giants that he had a future in their first team.

Which positions did Scolari use him in at Palmeiras? Centre back and defensive midfield. He was also made vice-captain during the pair’s time there, which shows that he has his manager’s trust and is someone he believes can step up when called upon.

Despite the clamours for other players to be included in the squad, Henrique’s inclusions makes perfect sense from Scolari’s perspective. With a pool of national players as large as Brazil’s, there will always be questions raised over the selection of their squads, and especially over a squad as important as this one.

The manager has chosen to go with the players whose character he trusts to get the job done at this moment in time, rather than taking risks on players who could upset the balance on the pitch or off it.

Those Scolari followers referred to earlier will know that he likes to create a close knit group, and his selection decisions would have been based around assembling a family, rather than simply selecting the twenty-three best players.


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