Brazil vs. France: 5 Biggest Storylines to Watch
Last weekend's 2-2 stalemate with England at the revamped Maracana saw Selecao fans vent their frustrations on their side, as they once again struggled for fluency and struggled to show any real cohesion.
That they have won just once in six internationals would appear to be starting to weigh heavily on the five-time world champions' shoulders ahead of the Confederations Cup.
France fielded something of a fringe XI in their 1-0 defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday and, although Franck Ribery isn't present, Didier Deschamps will field a stronger starting lineup on Sunday with Hugo Lloris, Karim Benzema, Adil Rami and Yohan Cabaye all expected to return.
With all that in mind, here's a look at five of the biggest storylines to watch on Sunday night:
Narrow Brazil Continue to Struggle
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Against England last weekend, Brazil really did struggle for a lack of width. It was palpable how little the Selecao looked to make the pitch as big as possible and thus ran into crowded central positions.
Neymar, Hulk and Oscar—the trio supporting No. 9 Fred—all came into central areas rather than keeping hold of width. It is their preferred modus operandi. Additionally, Dani Alves did likewise from his position at right-back, stepping inside when approaching 30 yards from goal rather than looking to hit the byline.
In the end, it made the job of the England defence rather easier than it should have been against such talented players.
If Brazil continue without making the most of the wide areas and stretching teams out, then lateral passes/runs from midfield towards forward areas will continue to be negated by packed defences.
The logical solution would appear to be the introduction of PSG starlet Lucas Moura—most likely at the expense of Hulk—and starting him high and wide on the right.
His explosive pace and preference of hugging the touchline would both offer Brazil an alternative option to their attack and create space for those in other areas of the pitch.
Will We See Dante?
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
A point somewhat lost in some quarters following Brazil's game with England was the non-appearance of Bayern Munich defender Dante.
The CBF (Brazilian football association) pulled Dante and his Bayern colleague, Luiz Gustavo, from the German side's German Cup Final against Stuttgart last weekend, insisting on their availability for the England friendly.
However, whilst Gustavo appeared for the first 45 minutes, Dante was left on the bench throughout as both Thiago Silva and David Luiz played the full 90 minutes.
So what was the point?
It may well have been a power play against club sides and it certainly presents the CBF as powerful. But what actual good will have come from it, especially with regards the players' mindsets?
Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge spoke to DW.de about the situation:
You get the clear impression that a kind of psychological terror was exerted on both of them. What that means for Brazilians, with their relationship to the national side, is easy to envisage. I find this pressure inhuman, a little unscrupulous and a little unfair.
What role Dante plays against the French on Sunday, if any, makes for a rather intriguing subplot.
Brazil's Lack of Identity
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Watching Brazil play, the question that most readily comes to mind is, what exactly is their style?
Under Dunga, it was clear that the aim was to counterattack at pace and exploit sides who had left a little too much space in their defensive third. However, with the ascension of Spain and the top nations moving towards more possession-based styles, Brazil appear in something of a conundrum.
For a start, counterattacking will not be an option at either the Confederations Cup or World Cup, as neither the home crowd nor visiting opponents will allow it.
Defences will pack behind the ball and make themselves difficult to break down whilst the home crowd will always beckon Brazil to attack and entertain—to dictate matches.
However, the problem then comes that whilst Brazil have a number of functional central midfielders—defensive (Luiz Gustavo and Fernando) and box-to-box (Paulinho) types—they don't really have the dominant midfield playmaker, like Xavi, Andrea Pirlo or Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Certainly, Hernanes has talent—there are very few players who have his ability to pass and shoot with such astonishing accuracy with either foot—but whether he has the necessary personality to dominate matches at the highest level remains to be seen.
All of which offers more questions than answers. Once again, unless Scolari can put his finger on exactly how to change the situation, this will only continue to be a major hindrance to the Selecao.
Will Karim Benzema Step Up for France?
Scott Heavey/Getty Images
In the absence of Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri, striker Karim Benzema is Les Bleus' chief attacking threat.
However, whilst a record of 15 goals in 57 caps is by no means bad, it is time that the Real Madrid No. 9 begins to show his best for the national team and starts to show a killer instinct in front of goal.
Benzema is unquestionably a tremendous talent. On paper, he would appear to have it all as a centre-forward: a clever technician, quick, strong and with very good movement.
However, for all his brilliance at the club level in the past two seasons—32 goals in 2011-12, 21 goals in 2012-13—his recent international record stands at a paltry three strikes in 19 games (two against Estonia and one vs. Albania).
As it stands, Benzema is in the midst of a 1,011-minute goal drought in the colours of the national team.
Now, in a match which will be a real test of temperament for Didier Deschamps' side, Benzema must prove that he has the mental toughness to lead his side. Alongside Marseille's Mathieu Valbuena, Benzema represents the chief goalscoring and creative threat heading into Sunday's test in Porto Alegre.
It is time he began to prove his pedigree.
Laurent Koscielny's Reputation Continues to Grow
Scott Heavey/Getty Images
Over the course of the last 12 months, Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny has arguably grown into the key defender both for club and country.
Having been behind Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen in the pecking order at the Emirates Stadium back in August, Koscielny has gone on to prove himself an indispensible member of Arsene Wenger's side.
Likewise, at the international level, the 27-year-old has continued to grow as a defender and his most recent showings for Les Bleus—the 1-0 losses to both Spain and Uruguay—have both been highly promising.
Quick across the ground, aggressive in the tackle and a good reader of the game, his reputation continues to grow and it's no wonder The Sun has him linked with the likes of European champions Bayern Munich.
The likes of Fred and Neymar will represent another test for the former Lorient man, but such has been his recent solidarity that the smart money is on Koscielny coming through it with flying colours once again.