When was the last time Brazil has been under so much scrutiny? While past teams had generational players such as Pele, Garrincha, Ronaldo, Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Zico, Felipe Scolari's current squad does not have any superstars just yet. Sure, Neymar (Barcelona) may be the team's biggest name, but he has not proven himself in Europe which is what sets the standard to be amongst the world's elite.
Brazil's current team has been characterized as young and inexperienced, but between the constant experiments by previous manager Mano Menezes and current manager Scolari, the Brazilian team has been a work-in-progress. They look to be finally showing an identity that can compete internationally, but is still a player or two away from being a threat to the world's best.
Neymar, Fred (Fluminese), Lucas Moura (PSG), Oscar (Chelsea), Hernanes (Lazio), Paulinho (Corinthians), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Thiago Silva (PSG), David Luiz (Chelsea), Julio Cesar (QPR).
Youth—Unlike Dunga's team where most of his players were either in their late 20's and early 30's, today's Brazil team is comprised mostly of players in their early to mid 20's. Players like Neymar, Oscar, Paulinho and Luis Gustavo (Bayern Munich) have a lot to prove, to not only the skeptics out there in the stands, but to themselves too.
While it would have been nice for Brazil to have Kaka (Real Madrid) or Ronaldinho (Atletico Mineiro) on the team from a nostalgic/marketing point of view, both players simply do not have much to prove at this point in their careers and it would be more beneficial to have a player like the speedy Bernard (Atletico Mineiro) who will throw caution into the wind and leave everything out there on the pitch.
Home field advantage—arguably the most passionate supporters, Brazilian fans are born as fans of the beautiful game. The average fan of futbol in Brazil knows more than most other fans of the game, while the hardcore fans probably know too much for their own good! This passion that will be seen throughout the various stadiums will help Brazil's confidence. But, on the flip side, Brazil has been known to be home to some of the most critical supporters as well.
With a population of approximately 194 million, Brazil has been known as the nation of 194 million coaches too. As quickly as Brazilans can love their national team, they can be very quick to turn on their own players. Should Brazil start the tournament off on the wrong foot, Brazil can find themselves playing in quite a hostile environment. But hopefully with experienced players such as Dani Alves and Julio Cesar, they can help set the tone for the defense and push the proper mentality up the pitch.
Alves and Cesar, two of the more senior members of the squad, are certainly not the same players that shined under the Dunga regime from 2006-2010. Alves, at one point considered the best right back in the world, has been inconsistent for both club and country and may have lost a step mentally and physically and appears to try too much at times.
Cesar, on the other hand, has simply gotten older and is no longer the same keeper that led Inter Milan to Champion's League glory in 2010. As with most Brazilian teams, goal keeping has been a mixed bag traditionally. No keeper has really stepped up since 2010, thus Cesar continues to be the best option between the sticks.
Two questionable exclusions for this tournament are Ramires (Chelsea) and Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool). Ramires, one of the few remaining players from Dunga's team, had been a regular member of the squad for the most part until a recent incident that apparently bothered Scolari enough to leave him off the team. A speedy box-to-box midfielder, hopefully Ramires' absence will not harm Brazil in the long haul. Scolari has been known to make sure that no player is bigger than the team.
Coutinho has been an interesting story. A rising star at Inter Milan under Rafa Benitez, became was on the verge of turning into a journeyman before making a name for himself in the toughest league for a Brazilian player—the English Premier League. In just 13 matches for Liverpool, Coutinho put up 3 goals and seven assists, which was good enough to generate enough buzz about him for an international cap. Unfortunately, Scolari chose players such as Bernard, Jadson (Sao Paulo) and Jean (Fluminense) who did well in the Brazilean league.
Do not write off these two players just yet as there will be plenty of friendlies to come prior to the World Cup.
Players to Watch:
Oscar and Hernanes—Originally, Ganso (Sao Paulo) was penciled in to be the playmaker for Brazil. Injuries and inconsistency prevented Ganso from meeting expectations. Since then, several midfielders have come and went. Even Hernanes was given a shot early on but had a few shaky performances. Luckily, his form at Lazio made Scolari bring him back into the mix and the results with him and Oscar have begun to look promising.
Fred—No stranger to the European style of play, Fred has been viewed as the best current number nine by supporters by default. Despite an impressive goal to game ratio, Fred does not generate the same level of confidence in fans that Luis Fabiano (Sao Paulo) did when he shined under Dunga. As long as Fred continues to score goals in a Pippo Inzaghi-like fashion, he should be able to become the full time center forward.
Marcelo—Surprisingly, this will be the left back's first official FIFA tournament in the yellow shirt. One would have thought that Marcelo would have been the regular left back under Dunga, but that was not the case. With 228 games for Real Madrid under his belt by the age of 25, it is quite shocking that Marcelo has only 20 caps for Brazil, especially at the position that has been a revolving door since legendary left back Roberto Carlos left the international scene in 2006. Look for Marcelo to cement his place in the squad during this tournament.
Brazil is the defending champion for this edition of the Confederations Cup (2009 and 2005). Even though each game will be a home game for the Brazilians, their group matchups will all be dog fights. Mexico has been known to have Brazil's number in many tournaments in the past (2012 Olympic Final, 2007 Copa America, 1999 Confederations Cup). Italy will be looking to Pirlo and Balotelli to make a run at Brazil, while Japan seeks to be that team that slips through under the radar.
If Brazil can get out of the group stage, they better hope to face a team like Uruguay in the first knockout round. This Brazil team is simply not ready yet to defeat a team like Spain. Chances are they will struggle against Italy and will have a good match against Mexico and Japan before being knocked out in the elimination rounds.
Sorry Brazil, this tournament will not be your time, but will serve as a good learning ground in preparation for the World Cup.