Brazil is the bookmakers' favorite to win the World Cup in 2014. However, according to the latest FIFA ranking system, the five-time champions have plummeted to an all time low of 22nd.
This begs the question: Are the Selecao realistic favorites to take home the title?
The World Cup is set to kick off on June 12, 2014. It would be more than fair to say that Luiz Felipe Scolari's team is still a work in action. The preparation, however, began all the way back on July 24, 2010.
That was the day that Mano Menezes was tasked with bringing samba-style football back to the Brazilian game. The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) decided to sack Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri, better known to you and I as Dunga, after years of pragmatic football under ex-player.
The fact that the Selecao were more than disappointing at South Africa 2010 was just the icing on the cake as far as the CBF President, Ricardo Teixeira, was concerned.
Very few people realized the mammoth task ahead of Menezes when he took the job in 2010. Brazil, despite their then-ranking of No. 3, had regressed to perhaps its poorest state ever. Dunga's dour counter-attacking brand of football reflected what was happening at home.
And gone were the days when Brazil was producing world-class talent by the truckload.
Menezes came in with a new broom and immediately set about building a side that would go for gold at London 2012. The ideology was that this young and adventurous team would forge the nucleus for Brazil 2014.
"We all know that we need to win the gold. Brazil has to win every tournament it plays, it needs to win every match it plays, even if it’s a friendly - and this time even more because it’s something the nation has never won before."
This was to show his team exactly what kind of pressure awaited them in two years' time.
However, Mexico failed to read the script and sensationally and deservedly beat Brazil in the final.
The most worrying aspect of Brazilian football was Menezes' apparent inability to motivate a team full of full internationals and world stars. From there he was a dead man walking, and less than six months later he was sacked.
Now, Luiz Felipe Scolari will lead the Brazilian charge for a sixth title.
Scolari picked up the pieces from a man who was already picking up the shattered pieces of a shattered system gone wrong.
Add in Ricardo Texeira's resignation for health problems amidst corruption allegations, stadium and airport construction problems ahead of the World Cup, and Brazil's U-20's failing to qualify for the 2013 U-20 World Cup and you see the mountain ahead for Brazilian football.
Put that toxic concoction together and it is no surprise that Brazil have dropped in the FIFA ranking system month-on-month from June 2010.
Now, with the World Cup just around the corner, football fans everywhere, and especially in Brazil, are asking: Can Brazil win the World Cup? Can they beat the likes of Spain, Germany and Argentina?
If the competition was beginning on June 12, 2013 instead of 2014, the answer would simply be an emphatic no.
Scolari has a huge advantage over his predecessor in that the Brazilian economy is booming, despite a recent slowdown. This, combined with a huge corporate interest in domestic football and wanting a piece of Brazil 2014, has helped teams bring home more internationals than ever.
As such, it is far easier for Scolari to assemble squads than it was for Menezes, who often had to pick domestic and European squads during his tenure.
The loss in London 2012 and the failure to reach Turkey 2013 are perhaps the largest footballing setbacks to beset the Selecao. By losing in London, Brazil showed that they struggled to deal with the pressure of expectation. Their greatest stars—Hulk, Neymar, Thiago Silva, Rafael, Leandro Damiao and Oscar, all household names—had average tournaments and particularly failed to shine in the final.
The U-20 setback must be seen in the context that Brazil's U-20's are the reigning World Cup champions. Scolari would have wanted to watch this group closely to see who would make the cut for the real action in 2014.
If anything, the best possible news to hit Brazilian football was Neymar's $74 million transfer to Barcelona.
Barca will not allow Neymar to play in the same self-indulgent way that Santos was forced to endure. He will learn the true skills of teamwork and self sacrifice at the Camp Nou, and there is no better player to learn from than Lionel Messi.
In the face of all that has gone wrong with Brazilian football in the last four years, Scolari now has 12 months to build a team capable of winning the World Cup.
The omens, at the moment, are not looking good as Scolari begins to build a team.
In his six matches in charge he has only won once, against Bolivia, and has drawn against Italy, Russia, Chile and England, who he has also lost against. On paper, his record reads as 1-4-1 and does not seem all that bad.
He has since changed his predecessor's system. Fluminese's Fred has been restored to international duty, as has Queens Park Rangers' experienced goalkeeper Julio Cesar. The fact that these two players—alongside Ronaldinho, who received a temporary reprieve—came back into the fold highlights the distinct lack of experience at the highest level in Brazil.
Fred and Cesar also fill two important roles along the all-important spine of the team at center-forward and goalkeeper, respectively.
Dante has been parachuted in from relative obscurity in the Brazilian wilderness having won the treble with Bayern Munich. The center-defender has only won two international caps to date. He will slot in alongside Barcelona's Dani Alves, Chelsea's David Luiz and Real Madrid's Marcelo.
Individually, all four players can be supreme on their day. However, they are all extremely prone to individual error, and Scolari faces a huge task to blend them together before next June. Add Thiago Silva, viewed by many as one of the finest defenders in the game, and Brazil could have the best defense on paper come next year.
Like all good managers, he knows that strikers win matches and defenders win tournaments.
In midfield, Brazil face huge problems and massive inexperience.
FC Paris Saint-Germain's 20-year-old Lucas Moura is the most experienced midfielder in the current squad with just 24 caps. Neymar, as a forward, is the second-most experienced outfield player, behind Dani Alves, with 33 caps at just 21 years of age.
In recent times Scolari seems to have decided upon a 4-2-3-1 formation. His team, however, lacks the ability to control center midfield or to flank defenses. They, therefore, become very narrow and are easy to contain during transitional phases.
Fred's return at least affords him a conventional center forward who likes to bring others into play. Both Hulk and Leandro Damiao like to play off the shoulder of the last defender in swiftly breaking teams.
In the build up to England's friendly with Brazil, Julio Cesar spoke to the Telegraph and the Daily Mail. He told the English media of the Selecao's need to win and the pressure that is put on the team, while also intimating that Scolari needs more time to build his team.
He said: “In Brazil, we always have to win, everybody knows that. It’s too much pressure because of the passionate supporters.”
We have a short time to work together. Now is an important moment for us because we don’t play the qualifiers for the World Cup, so it’s hard to make a group. It’s important for us because we have 30 days to work together, to play, to do what Felipe Scolari asks us to do in training.
He’s a really important coach for us. He knows the national team really well. He likes to make a group quickly, he likes to make a big family. I think he would like to do the same with us.
My focus is on the Confederations Cup - it is important for the World Cup.
In short, the Confederations Cup cannot come any sooner.
While Scolari is busy trying to assemble a team, his main rivals Spain, Germany and Argentina are tweaking theirs.
The Spanish know all about major tournaments having won the last three, Euro 2008 and 2012 and World Cup 2010. They will arrive in Brazil well prepared and with a blend of football that is almost impossible to play against.
Germany head to Brazil off the back of their best ever Champions League campaign, where two German sides, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, met in the final. Munich has dominated European football of late, having appeared in three of the last four Champions League finals.
Argentina will arrive off the back of Lionel Messi. It says much of the heights we expect off the little magician that his injury-hit campaign of 2012-13 was something of a disappointment despite him scoring 60 goals in 50 matches for Barcelona.
This is the trio to beat to win Brazil 2014, and that is not even mentioning the likes of Belgium, Colombia, England, Holland, France and Italy, who could all turn it on for seven matches next year.
Germany, Spain and Argentina all have a massive head start on Scolari and his young team. They have a mountain to climb if they are to be considered as potential world champions in 2014.
They, amongst, the eternal elite of world football are the only nation not to win the World Cup on home soil.
Germany, Italy, England, France, Uruguay and Argentina have all won at home. Brazil failed to do so in 1950.
Scolari is a man racing against time. His race started in 2010 but he only picked up the baton in 2012. Now he has just one year to build a team and fortify their ability to deal with pressure.
Brazil's public expects the title in 2014. Nothing else will do. Second place is nowhere.
This will ultimately be Scolari's and Brazil's undoing, despite a valiant effort to build a team worthy of the famous yellow shirt.
Who do you think will win the World Cup in 2014, will Brazil do it?
Leave your comments, suggestions and World Cup thoughts and predictions in the section below.
Statistics from FIFA.com, UEFA.com
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