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FIFA World Ranking: 13
Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari
Captain: Thiago Silva
Last World Cup: Quarterfinal
Qualifying as: Host
Last 5 Matches: W*WWDL**
Head-to-Head: Italy 5, Brazil 7, 2 draws
*First leg of two-legged tie
**Second leg of two-legged tie, won tie on penalties
Given their reputation as the best soccer nation on the globe, it is intriguing to realize when you look hard at the selecao just how many question marks present themselves.
My main concern with them is defensively. I know that the Olympics are mainly a U21 competition, but Brazil's defense in that tournament was at times atrocious.
The Brazilians opened the tournament by going 3-0 up on Egypt within half an hour, but switched off in the second half and ended up conceding a pair of goals and had to hold on for dear life in the game's final 15 minutes.
Their next game against Belarus was even stranger—they went down 1-0 after eight minutes. Alexandre Pato equalized seven minutes later, and Neymar and Oscar finally put the Belarusians to the sword in the second half.
The knockout rounds were no better. In the quarterfinal against Honduras they were down 1-0 and 2-1 before finally winning the matchup 3-2. Then, of course, was the final, where they conceded in the first minute and couldn't recover to do anything in attack.
Like I said, this was the Olympics, not full internationals, but a lot of the players who were on Brazil's Olympic roster figure to loom large in Brazil's senior team for the foreseeable future. Captain Thiago Silva was one of the three overage players on the roster, as was Marcelo—two very capable defenders who play for some of the very best teams in Europe. Indeed, Silva may be the best defender in the world at present.
Despite the quality of the players on the back line, there was no cohesion, and it led to multiple breakdowns for a team that was, with the shock early elimination of Spain in the tournament, favored to romp to the gold medal.
My other concern is Neymar. Yes, Neymar. The wunderkind of world soccer and owner of last year's world Goal of the Year. The scorer of all those stunning goals for Santos.
And that's just it. He's playing for Santos. I know that many Brazilians are fed up with losing their best players to Europe and so are advocating his staying in Brazil until at least after the World Cup is over, both for patriotic and marketing reasons. But the fact of the matter is that for all his talent Neymar has started to stagnate in the Brazilian league. His performances this season have revealed no evolution, no improvement over the player he was a year ago.
Add to that the fact that he plays in a league of high defensive lines that allow him to run freely through the back and under the watch of referees who will blow for a foul if an attacker gets hit by a breeze coming through the stadium, and it becomes a serious question as to whether or not Neymar can lead a forward line against top European clubs like Italy.
If Neymar is to successfully lead Brazil's forward line in major international tournaments, he needs to leave Brazil and go to Europe. Only then will he be able to make the final improvements that will bring him fully to the level of players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
It's hard to tell how these Brazilians will turn out. They are likely to beat Japan and will be very motivated against Mexico, but this is not the same Italian team that they throttled 3-0 in the group stage finale of the last Confederations Cup, and these Brazilians are not quite the same quality as that squad that was considered such a huge favorite for South Africa 2010. Them going through as group winners would not surprise me, but a crash-out wouldn't either.