Analysing Brazil's squad: Are the current crop good enough to lift the 2018 World Cup?
They've won the World Cup more times than any other nation. And in 2014 as hosts, they were supposed to win football's biggest prize for a record sixth time. However, in the semi-final against Germany and in front of an expectant audience in Belo Horizonte, Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil imploded and suffered the worst night in their entire footballing history.
A 7-1 mauling by Joachim Low's Germany, who would go on to win the final against Brazil's great rivals Argentina, heralded the inevitable departure of Scolari and the return of Selecao legend and former coach Zico for a second spell at the helm. But following two embarrassing early exits at the 2015 and 2016 editions of the Copa America at the hands of Paraguay and then Peru, Zico's second stint in charge of the Canarinhos came to an abrupt end in June 2016. To replace him, the CBF elected Corinthians coach Tite, a two-time Brazilian champion and 2012 Copa Libertadores and World Club Cup winner to the head coach's position.
And under the 56-year-old, Brazil have cruised through the remainder of the World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign, winning his first eight competitive matches in charge, including an impressive 3-0 win over Argentina, to become the first country to book their place at the finals next year. Tite does have some incredible quality at his disposal with the likes of the newly-crowned most expensive player in history Neymar, and Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho.
Good Enough For Number Six?
However, does he now boast a good enough squad and one ready to atone for the humiliation suffered in 2014? Undoubtedly there have been Brazil teams of the past with more quality as a whole who have also failed to live up to their pre-tournament billing as favourites for World Cup glory. Think 1982 and the wonderful free-flowing football of Tele Santana's great entertainers. After delighting the watching world with their delicious brand of attacking football they fell so unexpectedly to a Paolo Rossi-inspired Italy due mainly to their inability to defend. Littered with an embarrassment of riches including Socrates, Eder, Zico, Junior and Falcao to name but a few, they are in many eyes the best team not to win the World Cup, possibly alongside Johan Cruyff and Holland in 1974.
Are Brazil as good or as strong today as Santana's team of '82 or even the 2006 squad containing Kaka and the three R's, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, who were outfoxed so famously by France and the retiring Zinedine Zidane at the quarter-final stage? Well, let's be honest, probably not. But Tite has instilled a toughness to their game, evidence of which is backed up by his record in the hotseat to date. With 11 wins and one draw in his 13 matches in charge Tite boasts a staggering win percentage of 84.62% with 32 goals scored and only four conceded. It is some record.
Ah but it's only South America you say, it's easy to qualify from that group when four teams advance automatically and the fifth placed finisher only has to beat some random team from Asia to advance. But it is a marathon rather than a sprint to reach the finals, 18 games in total to be exact. And after 16 of them, Brazil lead the way with a massive 37 points, 10 points clear of second-placed Uruguay. Even Argentina, with Lionel Messi et al, are struggling to make it, currently languishing in fifth place with Chile biting at their heels just a point behind them.
Experience Still in Evidence
Tite can still call on a number of the players who donned the famous yellow shirt at the last World Cup on home soil. At the back, there is the vast experience of Thiago Silva, so badly missed through suspension together with the injured Neymar on that awful night in Belo Horizonte three years ago. Alongside him in defence, Tite can also call on the evergreen Daniel Alves, now of Paris Saint-Germain and Silva's partner at the back in the French capital, Marquinhos. Three out of the back four playing together week in week out in France and in the Champions League will be no bad thing in preparation for next year's finals in Russia. And on the left there is a real abundance of choice between Real Madrid left-back Marcelo, his cross-city rival at Atletico, Filipe Luis and Juventus' Alex Sandro, the target of a reported world record bid for a defender from Chelsea this summer.
In front of the defence, an area exposed so badly by the Germans in 2014, Tite can call upon experienced Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho in addition to the ever-improving and increasingly important midfield enforcer Casemiro of Real Madrid. There is also Paulinho, once of Tottenham and now of Barcelona while Willian of Chelsea, Monaco star Fabinho and the experienced campaigner Renato Augusto also remain in contention for a starting berth.
Always Forward Thinking
As ever though the sprinkling of stardust in the team remains up front with Neymar, scorer of an incredible 52 goals in 79 games for the Selecao, as the focal point of the attack. Along with Coutinho, now such an integral member of the team, there is Liverpool teammate Roberto Firmino. The former Hoffenheim forward has his critics, but Bobby as he is affectionately known on Merseyside is a clever player who is as likely to create a goal out of nothing as he is to score one. There is also the option of Manchester City starlet Gabriel Jesus waiting in the wings. Tite, as all Brazil managers seem to enjoy, is certainly not short of options going forward.
Brazil may not possess the strength of squad they may once have enjoyed but they still look strong going forward, and at this moment in time certainly also at the back, an area that has let them down so often in the past. Will they win the World Cup next year? It's difficult to say. As always the Germans will be there or thereabouts undoubtedly, while other heavyweights such as Argentina, Portugal and Holland are struggling to even make it to the finals.
Brazil's squad is no longer young and lacking experience. The majority of the first team average 25-years-of-age with some older heads such as Silva offering even greater know how. The Selecao haven't won a World Cup on European soil since 1958 in Sweden when a 17-year-old by the name of Pele burst onto the scene to inspire Brazil to the first of their five titles. Maybe in Russia next year Neymar and his fellow countrymen can celebrate the 60th anniversary of that triumph in real style. Brazil are at the time of writing joint-second favourites in the current football markets with odds of 6/1, second behind only Germany. I'll definitely be having a tenner or so on that.
Chris graduated from the University of Brighton in 2007 with a degree in Sports Journalism and is a sports fanatic, spending pretty much all of his money following the Welsh national football team all over Europe (and yes spending five weeks on tour with Wales in France at Euro 2016). He has written for numerous websites and has two fully published football biographies to his name. Chris also enjoys rugby union, cycling and politics and enjoys a regular (okay daily!) punt on football.