How Brazil Are Coping with the Weight of World Cup Expectation

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How Brazil Are Coping with the Weight of World Cup Expectation
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

If it is possible to judge the mood of a nation in a car park, then Brazil are ecstatic about their chances of World Cup glory next summer.

For three hours before the Selecao's friendly with Honduras on Saturday, I roamed the parking lot at the Miami Dolphins' Sun Life Stadium with a Bleacher Report camera (for a forthcoming feature) to get a sense of perspective on a nation looking to host its first finals since 1950. 

Amid the samba music, delicious BBQ food, impromptu five-a-side matches and generally raucous behavior, the fans were universally positive. Most I spoke to believed they would win the tournament next year. None mentioned the threat of a European team, and only one had his reservations about meeting their fabled South American rival, Argentina. 

Ryan Bailey

The hopes of the nation seemed to be resting upon the shoulders of a 21-year-old from Sao Paolo named Neymar. When I asked fans for a single word to describe his talents, one word was heard more than any other: "Amazing."

Clearly, Brazil is a nation that demands nothing less than success, and its squad have to live with an unfathomable weight of expectation from 200 million people.

Not so long ago, however, the Canarinho were dismally failing to match their own high standards.

In April, Brazil dropped down to 19th in the FIFA rankings, a record low and a far cry from the top spot they called home for many years. 

This is due in part to the fact that they have mainly played friendlies in the past few years (which count less towards the rankings) but also because of their underwhelming tournament performances. 

Prior to the 2013 Confederations Cup, Brazil's last competitive win against a "top" side was a 2009 win over Italy in the same tournament.

Between those two Confederations Cup competitions, they exited both the World Cup and the Copa America at the quarterfinal stage.

Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari was brought back into the fold at the end of 2012 following the unsuccessful reign of Mano Menezes, and he started his second tenure at the helm with a loss to England at Wembley (in which star player Neymar was virtually anonymous).

Big Phil's first six matches back in charge included that loss and four draws. In fact, Brazil were booed off the pitch in Belo Horizonte in April when they failed to beat Chile. Reports in the press about negativity and apathy among fans in Brazil were rife.  

Evidently, the turning point for the team was the 2013 Confederations Cup.

Despite a politically-charged backdrop of protest, the national team reminded everyone that they are capable of living up to their own esteemed reputation. 

Michael Regan/Getty Images

Neymar—a player who had been accused of disappearing in big games and being nothing more than a YouTube showboating specialist—immediately prospered with a superb goal in the opener against Japan, which has subsequently been nominated for the FIFA Puskas Award. 

Brazil emphatically won each of their five games, crowning the achievement with a rousing 3-0 win over world champions Spain at the Maracana. At the same stadium where the hosts shockingly lost the 1950 World Cup Final to Uruguay, this was surely a good omen. 

Since the summer, it seems that the mixed form of the past few years has made way for optimism and enthusiasm.

Brazil have won 11 of their last 12 matches, including the 5-0 rout over Honduras at the weekend. They showed their ability to deal with a physical threat and proved that they are not overly reliable on the spikey-haired striker who is expected by some to deliver World Cup glory on his own.

Ryan Bailey

In fact, one of the best players on the field was the diminutive Shakhtar Donetsk star Bernard, who scored his first international goal in an energy-packed performance that saw him dominate on both wings.  

During the Friday practice session at the Dolphins Stadium, the team spent at least 20 minutes practicing the same full-team drill under the watchful eye of Felipao. Victor or Julio Cesar would take a goal kick, a centre back would control it and the ball would work its way back to the goal with short passes. There was no defence to interrupt the movementit was simple Brazilian-style passing, practiced over and over again.

This drill clearly came into use on several occasions during the game, most notably during the sublime passing movement that lead to Hulk's goal.

On the strength of the Honduras performance and everything since the first whistle of the 2013 Confederations Cup blew, Brazil are proving their doubters wrong. Now, the rest of the world knows they have the talent, teamwork and determination to go all the way next summer. 

 

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