Predicting Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil World Cup Squad
The World Cup is now just a few months away. With the participating nations confirmed, attention is turning to which players will attend the competition next summer.
Nowhere is attention being paid more closely than on Luiz Felipe Scolari and his Brazil squad, with the hosts hoping for a sixth World Cup success and a first on home soil.
Matters of national selection in Brazil are always highly debated, but never will scrutiny be quite as intense as it will be for next year's competition—with avenging the Maracanazo of 1950 top of the national agenda.
With Goal.com's Rupert Fryer reporting that the coach already knows 20 of his 23-man squad, let's see which players he could pick for the formidable task at hand.
In terms of the first-team role, Scolari appears to have settled on QPR shot-stopper Julio Cesar as his preferred option in goal.
Thus far, he has not been left disappointed.
The veteran 'keeper may not be seeing any playing time at club level, but he's been excellent for his country over the past 12 months and deserves to retain his place.
However, it is now imperative that Cesar seek new arrangements in January to arrive at the World Cup with plenty of match practice under his belt.
Which colleagues will attend the tournament to back him up, though?
Victor, Jefferson and Diego Cavalieri have all featured in recent games, and will effectively vie for two squad spaces.
As a regular stand-in captain and with nearly 50 caps to his name, Botafogo penalty specialist Jefferson will likely travel as Brazil's No. 2 with Victor and Diego Cavalieri battling for the final spot.
On current form, it would have to be Atletico Mineiro's Victor who would attend.
Selection: Julio Cesar, Jefferson, Victor
Injuries aside, the first-choice defence for next summer has already been decided.
Captain Thiago Silva will continue his partnership with David Luiz at centre-back, while the full-back spots will be occupied by the Spain-based duo of Marcelo and Dani Alves.
It is an attack-minded defensive unit, if that is even possible, but one that has proven its worth to Brazil over recent fixtures and at the Confederations Cup.
With that in mind, it is to the possible substitutes our attention must turn.
For a start, centre-back Dante and left-back Maxwell can book their holidays for late next summer. The duo have been fixtures in recent squads and have seemingly caught the eye of Luiz Felipe Scolari when used.
Meanwhile, it is Roma defender Maicon who at present holds the advantage in terms of being the backup at right-back. That could all change as the season progresses, though.
The final centre-back slot is one of the big remaining question marks.
Cruzeiro's Dede had seemed in pole position, but then PSG youngster Marquinhos was called up for a recent debut, having continued to shine in Europe. Atletico Mineiro's Rever is also still in contention.
Given his fine domestic form and regular selection, Dede would have to be favourite at present. However, nothing is certain just yet.
Selection: Maicon, Dani Alves, Marcelo, Maxwell, Dede, David Luiz, Thiago Silva, Dante
Luiz Gustavo anchoring the midfield, Paulinho adding dynamism and Oscar adding subtlety in attack—Felipao's plan is clear and tested. Thus far, it has worked beyond expectation.
In recent fixtures, it would appear that Liverpool's Lucas Leiva is moving ahead of young Shakhtar midfielder Fernando in the race to act as backup for Gustavo, while Hernanes will likely attend as the alternative for Paulinho.
While Hernanes does not offer the same type of box-to-box drive as the Tottenham player, he can bring another dimension to Brazil's midfield with his passing quality as and when required.
In the central trio, Oscar will find club colleague Ramires backing him up in the No. 10 role. The Chelsea duo could well both start in a 4-2-3-1 setup, but will certainly both be part of the squad next summer should they avoid misfortune.
Ramires is not much of a playmaker, but he can fulfil the same role pressing high up the pitch as Oscar—albeit with less imagination. Scolari's squad requires different options, though, and in midfield he certainly has a varied selection of players upon which to call.
Selection: Luiz Gustavo, Lucas Leiva, Hernanes, Paulinho, Ramires, Oscar
It is at the business end of the pitch that Felipao perhaps still has the most to consider ahead of next year's tournament.
With Oscar at No. 10 and Neymar as one part of the attacking unit—presumably from the left-hand side—two starting spots remain up for grabs.
The centre-forward will be either Fred or Jo. The experienced former Lyon man was in control of the shirt up until the side's success at the Confederations Cup. However, a run of injuries since that competition has seen Jo come to the fore after some impressive cameos earlier in the year.
Neither player is perhaps up to the level that Brazil has come to expect from centre-forwards in recent years, but both have performed well for the national team under Scolari and deserve inclusion.
Shakhtar's Bernard—who, along with Ramires, could also compete for the remaining starting berth—will likely back up Neymar.
Hulk, Willian, Lucas Moura and perhaps even Robinho are then left to compete among themselves for the final two squad places.
As a regular starter under Scolari, Hulk would appear the most likely to earn a spot at the competition. Lucas has perhaps slipped behind his rivals in the race for a berth, with Willian the strongest runner at present.
They are decisions that will go down to the wire, though, with performances in both domestic and Champions League football this season set to be crucial.
Selection: Neymar, Bernard, Willian, Hulk, Jo, Fred