Predicting the Brazil Starting XI to Face Italy
Brazil take on Italy in Geneva on Thursday night with Luiz Felipe Scolari's plans thrown into disarray by a series of injury problems cropping up this last week ahead of the friendly encounter.
The recently installed Brazil coach will have to make do without Lucas Moura, Paulinho and Ramires for the tie, while both David Luiz and Diego Costa remain injury doubts. (Xinhua)
With that in mind, Scolari will likely be forced to select a somewhat makeshift midfield unit against Italy and hope that his players can up their game to secure a result. Brazil are in desperate need of a confidence boost.
A week ago, when the squad was announced, guessing Scolari's starting XI would have been a somewhat easier task.
Let's now, though, take a look at the side that he may choose to use in Switzerland on Thursday evening.
Goalkeeper: Julio Cesar
Queens Park Rangers goalkeeper Julio Cesar would appear to be installed as Luiz Felipe Scolari's No. 1 choice ahead of the 2014 World Cup. His experience would appear to have swung the race in his favour.
While there have been a couple of notable mistakes in recent weeks, the former Inter Milan keeper has generally enjoyed a fine first season in the Premier League and is deserving of his recall to the international setup.
Whether or not he should be installed as the first choice for Brazil, though, is another matter.
Scolari has made his choice and now it is a question of building familiarity between goalkeeper and defence.
Julio Cesar, barring catastrophic error or injury, will likely start all Brazil fixtures from now until the summer.
Right-Back: Daniel Alves
Barcelona full-back Daniel Alves has been Brazil's undisputed first choice for some time and, in the current squad, has only Fluminense midfielder Jean as any form of competition.
Alves may not be everyone's favourite right-back, but he is a phenomenal attacking force from the position and will be of great use to the side in 2014 if they can accommodate his strengths into their system.
He is better defensively than he is often given credit for and is normally required to play a much more disciplined role when in Brazil colours. It does, though, often limit his impact.
Scolari needs to find the right balance for his full-backs, whether it be to move to a back three or not. For the moment, though, there are no doubts over Alves' participation.
Centre-Back: Thiago Silva
Paris Saint-Germain defender and Brazil captain Thiago Silva is one of the best centre-backs operating anywhere in the world right now and is thus central to Brazil's 2014 World Cup plans.
Who will eventually partner him in the centre of defence at that tournament remains open to debate, but there can be little doubt of the former AC Milan player's inclusion.
A smooth operator with wonderful technique and composure, his performances will surely be an integral part of any Brazilian success in the coming years with centre-backs of such quality a truly rare commodity.
Having missed the game against England in February, Thiago will hope to inspire improved results against Italy and Russia in the coming days.
Bayern Munich centre-back Dante has enjoyed quite some year since joining the Bavarian giants and it could be about to get better, with David Luiz's reported injury problems likely giving him a starting berth against Italy.
Just a few months ago, he would not even have registered on the international radar. Now, though, Dante has the opportunity to mount a challenge to establish himself as a key member of Scolari's side.
Good performances vs. Italy and Russia would go a long way to helping him succeed in that aim.
With Bayern Munich boasting one of Europe's best defensive records, Dante has a good base from which to press his claims over the coming 18 months. His performances must now match his recently acquired reputation.
Like Daniel Alves on the other flank, when fit Marcelo is an undisputed choice for the left-back position and ranks among the very best anywhere in the world.
The issue, though, is once more finding a system that allows the full-back to show the best of his ability. That requires him to be used primarily as an attacking force.
For as long as Brazil continue to play a back four, the use of Dani Alves and Marcelo as a pair will be questioned. The remedy, as may be trialled against Italy, could be to play someone in defensive midfield who can drop back and become a third centre-back.
For the moment, then, Marcelo is first choice and will doubtless start against Italy later this week.
Centre Midfield: Luiz Gustavo
Bayern Munich defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo has been called back to the Brazil squad for the upcoming friendly fixtures and, given the current injury nightmare in midfield, looks a certainty to start both games.
An anchoring presence, it could be that it is the Bayern man who helps in the accommodation of Brazil's first-choice full-back pair. Does his presence help provide enough defensive stability?
Some would argue that it does and it will be intriguing to see if that is the option that Scolari chooses to trial, particularly given Italy's used of advanced forwards in wide positions.
The Bayern midfielder has his supporters and is unlikely to let his country down. Whether his lack of reputation at home affords him a long stay in the side remains to be seen.
Centre Midfield: Hernanes
Another player who has long been suggested by many as the answer to Brazil's problems is Lazio midfielder Hernanes, and he too could benefit from the absence of Ramires and Paulinho.
To do so, though, he will be required to play in a much deeper role to his preferred attacking midfield position. However, it is not a role he is entirely unfamiliar with.
The hope will be that Hernanes' presence can provide some assurance to the centre of Brazil's midfield, with his experience and passing ability of great use to the seleção.
It remains to be seen whether this turns out to be another false dawn for the Lazio player with the national team, but a squad place is now in his hands once more. Only he can now prove he is worthy of inclusion.
Attacking Midfield: Oscar
Chelsea midfielder Oscar has become a major feature of the Brazil squad over the past 12 months and looks set to be integral to the country's challenge at the 2014 World Cup.
With the likely inclusion of Kaka, Oscar will be required to play a slightly deeper role and assist his two central midfielders in asserting some control in the middle of the pitch.
It is a role that he has previously excelled in, with the midfielder showing his best attributes when most heavily involved. Scolari's side must seek to get him on the ball as often as possible.
Oscar will be the side's most important link between attack and defence, but will get great support in the role from both Hernanes and Kaka.
If Brazil are to succeed, he will have to try to repeat his early season club level performances against Andrea Pirlo. Limiting the Italian's influence will be key to the selecao's chances of victory.
Attacking Midfield: Kaka
The return of Kaka to the selecao in late-2012 helped inspire the best performances of Mano Menezes' reign and bring out the best of star forward Neymar in a Brazil shirt. With the arrival of Scolari, though, he was dispensed with.
In recent weeks, however, the former AC Milan star has returned to the first team fold at Real Madrid and is contributing to the Spanish side's season.
Kaka may lack the explosiveness of his early career, but he remains a mature and consistent performer. His biggest contribution to the side could well be in diverting attention from Oscar and Neymar, allowing them to take centre stage.
Scolari initially opted for Ronaldinho to fulfil that role. However, he failed to impress in last month's fixture with England. It is now the turn of Kaka to press his claims to lead the Brazilian attacking unit.
The biggest star of Brazil's side and the man that Scolari must get the best out of if his side is to succeed at the World Cup next year.
He has been notably criticised for a lack of success against European opponents in recent times, but there is no doubting Neymar's talent or potential.
His ego will have been damaged by the comments of Pele last month (Goal.com) and this fixture with Italy is his chance to set the record straight. There is no doubt he will be determined to succeed.
By his own exceptionally high standards, Neymar's form in 2013 has not been as he would have hoped. That is not to say he has not made a significant impact for his side.
As with all special players, Neymar has generally risen to all challenges that he has been confronted with in his career to date. Now, another challenge has been laid down and this game represents his first opportunity to defy his critics.
Fluminense forward Fred looks to have played his way into Scolari's plans with a fine second-half performance against England and continued excellence at club level.
With Leandro Damiao left out of the squad and Diego Costa struggling for fitness, Fred looks nailed on to start the encounter. Judging by his form over the past two years, he will not let anyone down.
The powerful target man may not be everybody's favourite player, but has emerged as the strongest player from a generation that included the talented duo of Adriano and Vagner Love.
He is simply the best striker that Brazil have to offer at the moment, for good or bad. Whether the selecao line up with a centre-forward or not is up to Felipão. Having chosen to do so, Fred is the best available option.