With 2014 now here and time running out for coaches to hone their squads prior to the FIFA World Cup, in Brazil all appears calm. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari and his charges have put together an envious run of form that has allowed the public to genuinely believe in success come mid-July.
Last June they lifted the Confederations Cup, putting four past Italy and three past Spain in the process. They have won their last six friendly matches, on the whole convincingly and comfortably.
And perhaps most importantly, so close to a major tournament, the side almost picks itself. With the possible exception of centre-forward, the No. 9 shirt that is so coveted, Scolari’s line-up is familiar after roughly a year in the making.
But there is one further issue that will need addressing before kick-off against Croatia on June 12 in Sao Paulo. And that is who will be the Selecao’s undisputed No. 1 during the tournament.
During last year’s dress rehearsal it was Julio Cesar, the former European champion at Internazionale who can now be found warming the bench at English club Queens Park Rangers. In fact, his only first-team action this year was in the third round of the FA Cup in which his side were thrashed 4-0 by Everton, his most memorable contribution a spat with Nikica Jelavic after the Croatian forward chipped a penalty against the crossbar.
Coach Scolari has admitted he has “six or seven places to fill” on his 23-man squad. He has also guaranteed that Cesar will be on that squad, as reported by Neil McLeman of The Daily Mirror, his experience at international level tipping the balance in his favour.
But can a man who has seen so little playing time for the best part of a year be trusted with the responsibility of keeping goal in arguably the country’s most important World Cup tournament to date?
Cesar has done little wrong in national colours. But it is worth recalling his last outing at a World Cup.
In the quarterfinal of the 2010 World Cup against Holland, with Brazil a goal to the good, Cesar came to collect a cross he had the slimmest chance of catching. He only succeeded in colliding with Felipe Melo, allowing the Dutch to equalize. Brazil went on to lose 2-1.
Any Brazilian exit from a World Cup is seen as shameful. But if they were to go out so tamely on home soil, it would be an unmitigated disaster.
Scolari’s conundrum comes from the fact Cesar is tried and tested. But he has several options back home who are more than capable of filling the place.
Jefferson of Botafogo, Victor of Atletico Mineiro and Fluminense’s Diego Cavalieri have all been involved with the national team over the past 18 months. The major problem remains the lack of time and opportunity to test other stoppers on the international stage before the World Cup.
There is only one FIFA date left before coaches must name their squads. Brazil are set to face South Africa on March 5 in Johannesburg.
That means Scolari will be basing his most recent judgments on matches played in local state championships in Brazil, which nowadays constitute little more than a pre-season training exercise.
But it would be a bold or foolish move to entrust the country’s last line of defence to a man who has been reduced to a bit-part role at a club in the English second tier. Cesar’s immediate priority must be to find first-team football, whether that be in the form of a permanent transfer or a short-term loan deal.
He reportedly came close to joining Italian club Fiorentina in the summer, but that deal fell through. The Guardian has also linked the 34-year-old with Arsenal, but a stumbling block may be the wages The Gunners are willing to offer a man who may be short of form and fitness.
For Cesar’s and Brazil’s sake, his future must be sorted sooner rather than later. Otherwise he may find himself on the outside looking in, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity wasted to lift a World Cup on home soil.