Luiz Felipe Scolari goes into Brazil's next two friendlies against South Korea and Zambia with “six or seven places to fill” in his final 23-man World Cup squad.
The Selecao take on the Koreans on Saturday in Seoul before travelling to Beijing to face Zambia three days later. While neither nation should pose stern threats to the reigning Confederations Cup champions, Scolari can instead use the matches to experiment and test players on the fringes of his team.
Speaking at a press conference at the end of September when he named the squad for next week's games, Scolari said: “The group [World Cup squad] is not closed. These games serve to provide opportunities.”
Brazil come into the matches fresh from two straight victories. After steamrolling Australia 6-0 they turned in an excellent first-half performance to see off Portugal 3-1 in Boston.
Following a slow start at the top of the year, as 2013 comes to a close Brazil are beginning to gel under their new manager.
But there are changes for next week.
In some areas the coach's hand has been forced. QPR goalkeeper Julio Cesar has withdrawn with a broken finger, and captain Thiago Silva is also set to miss out.
Cruzeiro centre-half Dede, who hasn't represented the national side since April, has earned a recall. Henrique, plying his trade in the Brazilian second division with Palmeiras, is also in the squad and should get an opportunity to prove his credentials.
Scolari has called up three Brazilian-based goalkeepers as he continues the search for those to deputise Cesar at the World Cup. Jefferson of Botafogo, Victor of Atletico Mineiro and Fluminense's Diego Cavalieri are in the squad for Saturday and Tuesday.
Jefferson would appear to be the next in line having served as Cesar's immediate understudy during the Confederations Cup. Cavalieri was third choice during the June tournament but has since suffered a dip in form which could see him fall behind Atletico stopper Victor.
The 30-year-old was instrumental in his club's Copa Libertadores success in July, saving penalties in the quarter- and semi-final ties to help the club to their first-ever win in South America's premier club competition.
But the major surprise in the squad is the recall of Liverpool holding midfielder Lucas Leiva. The former Gremio man has not played for the national side in over two years, and his new chance has been met with bafflement in some quarters.
Lucas' return comes at a time when there are clamours for his club teammate, Philippe Coutinho, to be given an opportunity at the international level. However Scolari refused to drawn on the Liverpool No. 10.
“I will only talk about players who are in my squad. He [Coutinho] is not, so I have nothing more to add,” Scolari told journalists at the same press conference.
The front line, at least in Saturday's match, should contain the same attacking trio as the last two games. Bernard, Neymar and Jo performed well, and Neymar has begun to thrive at Barcelona.
He now needs to bring that club form and the confidence it has given him to the international stage and show the maturity he demonstrated during the battering he took from Portugal's defensive unit.
After winning the Confederations Cup, backed up by last month's two victories, Scolari can now use these games to further mould the side as well as experiment before next June's main event.
“We have a solid base. We need to work on our style so that we can maintain what we achieved at the Confederations Cup,” he continued.
Because it is not only the players who are under intense scrutiny. Scolari has not won a major trophy since his World Cup title with Brazil in 2002.
Disappointment with Portugal at Euro 2004, a short and unhappy stint at Chelsea and overseeing Palmeiras' dreadful season last year, when they were eventually relegated, are all prevalent on his recent CV.
To restore his credit Big Phil must once again deliver football's biggest prize. South Korea and Zambia provide the next steps on that journey.
Brazil Squad in Full
Centre-backs: David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich), Dede (Cruzeiro), Henrique (Palmeiras)
Full-backs: Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Maicon (Roma), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Maxwell (PSG)
Defensive midfielders: Paulinho (Tottenham), Hernanes (Lazio), Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Ramires (Chelsea), Lucas Leiva (Liverpool)
Attacking midfielders: Oscar (Chelsea), Lucas Moura (PSG)
Forwards: Hulk (Zenit), Neymar (Barcelona), Bernard (Shakhtar), Jo (Atletico Mineiro), Alexandre Pato (Corinthians)
Robbie Blakeley is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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