Picking a Brazilian Serie A Best XI for 2012
As Brazilian sides take their Christmas holidays, we are offered a brief pause in the relentless flow of transfer activity in which to reflect on the season just passed.
Fluminense emerged as convincing league champions with three weeks to spare, in a show of dominance that is rarely seen in the Brasileirao. The Tricolor Carioca were, indeed, an awesome force that swept aside all before them.
Sao Paulo, Gremio and Atletico Mineiro, in particular, all also showed their impressive qualities for long periods of the season, but were unable to sustain their challenges. They did, though, offer individuals who can be very proud of their efforts this campaign.
So, let's take a look at who could form a Best XI for the Brazilian championship 2012.
Goalkeeper: Diego Cavalieri (Fluminense)
The position of goalkeeper for our team is fairly easy to select. The likes of Fabio, Jefferson, Rogerio Ceni and Victor all had good campaigns for their respective sides, but none was able to match Fluminense's Diego Cavalieri for consistency of performance or influence on his team.
The former Liverpool goalkeeper may not have enjoyed the best of times in his spell at Anfield, but he was simply outstanding at times for Fluminense. Cavalieri produced a series of important saves in big matches for his side to win points almost single-handedly, as Fluminense marched to a convincing title.
He may not always be the most authoritative of keepers and has been prone to mistakes in the past, but Cavalieri has proved time and time again that he is a fine shot-stopper when called upon.
Right-Back: Marcos Rocha (Atletico Mineiro)
Like most in his position in Brazil, Marcos Rocha doesn't really do much defending. He plays as more of a deep-lying winger at times and adds far more in the attacking half of the pitch than he does in his own.
The Atletico man, though, was outstanding throughout most of this campaign and, although his performances dropped towards the end of the year, was a big part of the team's success in finishing second in the table.
Having been loaned out for the past two seasons to neighbours America-MG, it was truly a coming-of-age year for 24-year-old Rocha. Others worthy of mention are former Real Madrid star Cicinho, now of Sport Recife, and Fluminense's Bruno Vieira.
Left-Back: Carlinhos (Fluminense)
As with right-backs, it is not easy to pick a choice for this position with only a disappointing set of candidates to choose from. It may not have been a vintage year for full-backs in Brazil, but title-winner Carlinhos can deservedly take his place in our side.
Once more very attack-minded, Carlinhos and his right-back colleague Bruno are frequently used as outlets for Fluminense when the side comes under pressure, and they rarely disappoint, offering great width to the title-winners' side.
Carlinhos has long been one of the Brasileirao's more reliable full-backs, but stepped up his performances this year. He is solid, if uninspiring, but is the best the Brasileirao had to offer this campaign.
That said, Corinthians' Fabio Santos would also be a strong contender for the role in our side.
Centre-Back: Gum (Fluminense)
Often a much-derided figure in the past, Gum has largely cut out the mistakes this season and made use of his tremendous physical attributes to play an important role in Fluminense's often impregnable defence.
Alongside Leandro Euzebio, Gum marshalled a defence that boasted the joint-best record in the league, playing nearly all of his side's league fixtures, with his speed and strength particularly impressive throughout.
The Fluminense man was overlooked by the CBF in their choice of team of the year and was vocal in his disappointment at being omitted. In this case, given his fine performances, he has every reason to complain.
Centre-Back: Rever (Atletico Mineiro)
Atletico Mineiro defender Rever has long been regarded as one of the Brasileirao's finest defenders and, although a brief spell at Wolfsburg did not work out, has been on the fringes of the national team for quite some time.
He may lack the pace of Gum, but Rever makes up for it in strength and technique. Along with his centre-back partner Leonardo Silva, the duo have formed a wall-like presence at the heart of the Belo Horizonte side's defence.
In attack, both players also offered a considerable threat from the wonderful set-piece delivery of Ronaldinho.
Rever finished the campaign with six goals to his name, often providing valuable impetus when his side most needed a helping hand, as Atletico weaved their way to an unexpected second-place finish.
Central Midfield: Paulinho (Corinthians)
Paulinho is someone I have written a lot about in recent weeks and someone many of you will be familiar with. Although Corinthians did not put up much of a league challenge, having won the Copa Libertadores, it is difficult to argue against his presence in the Team of the Year.
Paulinho, in his box-to-box midfield role, fulfils his role in the Corinthians midfield to almost perfection, with his all-round abilities allowing him to contribute heavily in both attack and defence.
Playing alongside the more defensively minded Ralf, he is an important part of the Timao's compact defensive unit that sees them concede very few goals in competitive games—as Chelsea discovered so memorably in Japan.
However, the outstanding feature of his game, that separates him so markedly from the ranks of similarly minded midfielders in Brazil, is his timing of runs forward.
Paulinho is a frequent goal scorer for his side, often providing the directness needed to break down the massed ranks of opposition defenders—a Brazilian Frank Lampard.
Central Midfield: Jean (Fluminense)
Jean's transfer to Fluminense at the start of the campaign caused very few ripples in the Brazilian game—after all, he had been a solid but uninspiring right-back for much of his latter period at Sao Paulo.
In Rio de Janeiro, though, Jean has sprung to prominence as an all-action central-midfielder who provides valuable cover for his side's defence as the full-backs look to push forward.
While central-midfield partner Edinho is charged with sitting in front of the centre-backs, Jean is the man who must pressure the opposition quickly and slow down attacks, with the likes of Deco, Wellington Nem and Fred normally offering little assistance in defensive areas.
He has done his job to great effect this campaign and has received a great amount of deserved praise for his performances. His decision to move on from Sao Paulo appears to have been rewarded.
Attacking Midfield: Bernard (Atletico Mineiro)
The revelation of the 2012 season, Bernard has taken a giant leap forward this year from being considered a promising youngster to becoming a crucial member of his club side.
A diminutive presence at around 5'4”, Bernard buzzes around the attacking midfield areas, constantly seeking to get involved when in possession and hassling the opposition when without the ball.
His pace and enthusiasm has proved to be a wonderful foil to the aging Ronaldinho, who has excelled alongside his youthful colleague in an unusual double act.
Bernard is more than just an enthusiastic youngster, though, providing moments of individual brilliance that will live long in the memory, as well as contributing a considerable amount of goals and assists to his side over the entire season.
Attacking Midfield: Ronaldinho (Atletico Mineiro)
When Ronaldinho left Flamengo in May, journalists and supporters were queuing up to pronounce the end of the former Barcelona man as a credible force in professional football.
After hastily arranging a short-term contract at an Atletico side looking to make waves this campaign, Ronaldinho set about proving them wrong and, back in a central playmaker role, did so to great effect.
His legs may lack the pace of former years, but the former World Player of the Year has evolved his game to utilise his trickery and wonderful selection of passes to supply those around him—principally Bernard and centre-forward Jo.
Calls for his return to the Brazil side may be premature, but there can be no doubting the influence that Ronaldinho can still exert at club level.
Attacking Midfield: Neymar (Santos)
Neymar played less than half of his Santos side's matches in this year's Brasileirao, but still firmly asserted his position as the championship's star player with 14 goals in 17 matches in 2012.
Brazil internationals and suspension may have robbed him of more appearances for a side that struggled this campaign, but it is true to say that Santos would have been much better placed if they could have called on him with greater regularity.
The 20-year-old is a global superstar, despite having yet to leave his homeland, and backs up his reputation with his performances. He is playing on a different level to most in the league.
Striker: Fred (Fluminense)
In the eyes of most, Fred was the clear Player of the Year in Brazil this season, scoring 20 goals in 28 appearances to fire Fluminense to the league title.
Tall, strong and a deadly finisher, Fluminense go into each match knowing that if they can create chances, Fred will be there to convert and give his side the advantage.
Of his 20 goals, 13 were the first goal of the match—showing clearly the importance of the striker to his team. He was not merely scoring to round-off convincing victories.
Given Brazil's current lack of a standout centre-forward and his current form, the former Lyon striker could easily be heading the queue for the No. 9 shirt under Luiz Felipe Scolari in 2013.
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