Brazil head into the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup next week under immense pressure. With just a solitary win against Bolivia to their name this year, Luiz Felipe Scolari's return to management of the Selecao has been far from the triumphant homecoming that had been so yearned for.
As a country, Brazil craves footballing success. Football is the country's biggest marketing tool, something which will become clear over coming tournaments, and national team honours are taken for granted. A series of recent disappointments, then, has hit national pride.
To say that expectations are low heading into the Confederations Cup, then, would be an understatement. However, as always, a wave of optimism will sweep the country as soon as the tournament gets under way.
Drawn in Group A, where they will face Japan, Mexico and Italy, Brazil find themselves in the tougher half of the draw. When a much improved Japan side are seen as the weak link, the chance of a shock result is high.
Scolari, though, must rally his troops. A group stage exit would endanger his position as head coach, so he will know the need for success as well as anybody. Talent is not the problem for Brazil, but they have not played with cohesion for some time.
The next 12 months will be dominated by preparations for the 2014 World Cup, but those preparations should have already reached a far more advanced stage. The Confederations Cup, then, is a chance for a much needed kick start.
As shown above, in a graphic taken from this in-depth tactical breakdown of Scolari's Brazil by Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe, Scolari has settled upon a 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 system as his preferred formation.
The system involves attacking midfielders Oscar and Hulk tucking in as wide midfielders in defence, before springing forward to support the striking pair when in possession.
The idea has been to keep the side compact and limit the opposition's ability to attack. At times, it has appeared to work as a strategy for long periods of games. But inevitably Brazil's pressing intensity drops, and they have conceded plentiful goals.
For all the talent in the side, there is a lack of dynamism. The emphasis on keeping play compact has limited the creative abilities of Neymar and Oscar in particular, with attacking plays often too static to utilise their talents effectively.
What Must Be Done
In recent years, the best Brazil have played was under Dunga from 2006-2010. During that period, the side won Copa America and Confederations Cup titles and had been sailing through the World Cup until a 45-minute meltdown against Netherlands.
Although criticised at the time for being "un-Brazilian," the counterattacking model of the 1994 World Cup-winning captain was highly effective. Utilising his side's plentiful speed in attack, Dunga emphasised fast transitions.
The result was that Brazil pressed opponents into mistakes and then looked to strike quickly while opponents were still in defensive disarray. Such emphasis on transitions, vertical movement and pressure in defence have become key features of the modern game.
Scolari's Brazil, though, are currently failing in these respects. They have looked to press high in defence, as well as to use the pace of Neymar, Hulk and Oscar in attack, but these elements have not been sustained over an entire match.
With a two-week training camp ahead of the tournament, the Selecao will now have the chance to work on their playing style ahead of the opening fixture with Japan. There is, though, much to improve.
A balance between solidity in defence and freedom in attack must be struck. At present, neither department is functioning quite as hoped.
What To Expect
Brazil's tournament will go one of two ways. If they can resolve some of the balance issues over the next few days, then there is a good chance they will at least make the semifinal stage.
However, should they continue to offer the same unimaginative play as they have for the past two to three years, there is a danger that all three sides in the group will take points from the Selecao.
It will be interesting primarily to see whether Scolari opts to stick with his preferred central midfield partnership of Luiz Gustavo Dias and Paulinho in the tournament, with the duo of Fernando Francisco Reges and Hernanes having offered a better balance in recent games.
The back four and goalkeeper, barring the return of Marcelo Vieira for Filipe Luis, will line up as they did against England, and this is unlikely to change during the tournament.
As far as attacking players go, the big question marks currently surround the inclusion of Hulk. The Zenit star has generally failed to perform in the canary yellow shirt of Brazil, and many would press for the inclusion of Paris Saint-Germain's Lucas Moura in the side instead.
For Lucas, though, a likely substitute role beckons, where he will be joined by Atletico Mineiro youngster Bernard as Brazil's likely match winners from the bench.
However, based on recent experience, they will both likely spend the tournament picking up meaningless caps for 10-minute cameo appearances.
The pressure is on for all of Brazil's players, with places at the World Cup to be both won and lost over the next month. While a trophy is not expected, anything less than a respectable showing could bring about the premature end of a few international careers.
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