International Break Papers over Cracks in Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil Side
With four wins on the trot, the pressure is already mounting for Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil as fans begin to expect—not anticipate—a sixth World Cup on home soil to add to their burgeoning trophy cabinet.
But are the expectations realistic for the Selecao?
Ten victories in the last 11 games and two wins in the latest international week have put home fans in a bullish mood as the opening day of the 2014 World Cup draws ever closer.
Triumphs over South Korea and Zambia, however, merely serve to paper over the cracks in the squad and does Scolari's men little favour in preparing them for the summer extravaganza.
The Selecao may enter the tournament as one of the favourites, thanks to their Confederations Cup success in the summer, but they face fierce competition from usual suspects Spain and Germany.
Not to mention the conditions that will favour South American nations, and a resurgent Argentina look to be a potent threat in Brazil along with Colombia, Chile and perhaps Uruguay if they overcome Jordan in the playoffs.
But before they can even think about winning it all, they have a few problems to remedy first in the lead-up to the tournament.
First is the poor form of Zenit St Petersburg star Hulk.
The ex-Porto forward has been in woeful form of late for the Selecao, to the extent that even Scolari—a known admirer of Hulk's talents—found it necessary to haul him off at half-time against Zambia.
With the likes of Lucas Moura, Bernard and Ramires all waiting in the wings, Hulk cannot afford to rest on his laurels for much longer.
By the time the World Cup comes round, we could be seeing a different name on the teamsheet lining up alongside Neymar and Oscar in the attacking trio behind a lone striker.
Plenty of Selecao supporters would dearly love to see Lucas Moura or Bernard play on the right wing rather than the ineffectual Hulk.
While Brazil have plenty of reserves to experiment with for the attacking midfield positions, the same cannot be said of the strikers.
With Fred currently sidelined through injury, Scolari has taken to experimenting with his strikers and recently called up a clearly unfit Alexandre Pato to the national squad.
The Corinthians star played a lone role against South Korea and Zambia but was simply not up to the task.
A series of clumsy touches demonstrated Pato's lack of sharpness and it seems as though the former AC Milan star hasn't fully overcome his injuries.
Perhaps dropping him from the squad will be of more benefit to him, allowing the striker to focus on gaining match fitness at club level.
But where does that leave Brazil?
A severe lack of options for the No. 9 shirt has seen Jo emerge as the leading candidate in the run-up to Brazil 2014.
The Atletico Mineiro star is a trier and possesses a keen nose for a goal but falls short of the required standard to lead Brazil to glory next summer.
Elsewhere, Leandro Damiao struggles for form at Internacional and Neymar, although a candidate for the role, is far better suited to playing wide.
The search for a capable heir to the famed No. 9 shirt goes on and, in the meantime, Scolari will be fervently hoping that Fred makes a complete recovery in time for the World Cup.
In contrast to the issues in attack, Brazil's defence—once a source of problems—seems to have resolved itself.
A host of top class centre-backs vying for a place has ensured that the level remains as high as it has ever been with first-teamers Thiago Silva and David Luiz ably challenged by the likes of Dante and Dede while Doria and Marquinhos could be handed their first caps soon.
Dani Alves and Marcelo have also nailed down positions at right-back and left-back, ensuring a stable back four who know each other's game inside out.
The back four now simply needs to hone their understanding with each other going into the summer. But another problem has arisen in recent weeks, one that should never have occurred.
Julio Cesar was dropped from the latest squad, the first time the QPR goalkeeper has failed to make the list since Scolari took over.
Can Brazil win the 2014 World Cup?
The Selecao boss claims it was as a result of a lack of competitive action at club level, where Robert Green is the favoured No. 1 under Harry Redknapp.
Cesar should have found a new club last summer, but his exorbitant wages served to put off more than a few clubs in the process.
Should Cesar find a new club in January, the crisis may well be averted, but Botafogo's Jefferson will be waiting for a chance to make the No. 1 shirt his own.
Plenty of issues then, but luckily for Scolari, most can be resolved simply and quickly over the coming months.
Should every piece fall into place, the Selecao will certainly live up to their favourites tag at the World Cup and potentially claim an unprecedented sixth trophy on home soil.
But if these problems persist, Scolari may find bringing home the cup an even tougher task than first thought.
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