Luiz Felipe Scolari and Brazil Take World Cup Positives from South Africa Match

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Luiz Felipe Scolari and Brazil Take World Cup Positives from South Africa Match
Lee Jin-man/Associated Press

Luiz Felipe Scolari can walk away from Brazil's 5-0 thrashing of South Africa with an enormous smile plastered across his paternal features. His side won their seventh successive game and the outcome never looked in doubt once Oscar put them ahead with the contest just 10 minutes old.

In the starting line-up two auditions were held, with both players coming through their initial tests with flying colours. Rafinha of Bayern Munich replaced Daniel Alves at right-back, whilst Manchester City's Fernandinho stepped in for Luiz Gustavo in holding midfield.

The nine remaining starters should be assured of their places in the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo on June 12 against Croatia.

Julio Cesar is clearly Scolari's favoured man between the sticks. He was rarely tested against South Africa, making only one relatively difficult save midway through the second half, but the fact no one else has been properly tested is a patent indication Cesar will be the No. 1.

The defence picks itself. Despite Rafinha's encouraging display, a back four of Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Marcelo has been set in stone since the Confederations Cup.

Rafinha nevertheless found space on a number of occasions, particularly during the first half, and could well have edged ahead of Maicon in the Selecao pecking order.

Fernandinho's performance, meanwhile, may have given Felipao a midfield headache. He put in a discreet but competent display, topping it off by scoring the fourth with a delicious drive from range.

Brazil's front four also worked well in tandem. But in selecting Fernandinho, Scolari looks to have found a back-up 4-3-3 for his tried and tested 4-2-3-1.

What became evident during the hour that Fred was on the pitch is what an excellent foil he can make for the playmakers who join the attack.

His partnership with Neymar blossomed at the Confederations Cup. Between them they scored nine goals in five games.

But against South Africa, Oscar, playing just behind Fred, got forward with far more ease as the intelligent runs of the centre forward left acres of space through the middle of the park.

Oscar was Brazil's best player in the first half and Neymar was in the second. They scored four of the team's five goals on a bountiful afternoon.

But it couldn't have been achieved without the distraction that Fred's presence lends.

Stu Forster/Getty Images
Fernandinho's performance against South Africa may tempt Scolari to switch formations

Should he wish to do so, Scolari could dispense with Hulk, employ a midfield trio of Gustavo, Fernandinho and Paulinho, with Oscar and Neymar operating either behind Fred or as makeshift strikers if and when the situation demands.

The switch could also liberate Paulinho, who at times appears shackled in the necessity not to throw too many bodies forward at once. But with two midfielders alongside him he could be liberated from those restraints, with his power, precision and pinpoint passing suddenly an enormous benefit to Brazil's offensive prowess.

Scolari has timed the definition of his squad to perfection, right down to the substitutes. There was a previous train of thought that an experienced head, a Kaka or Ronaldinho, would be needed in such a high-pressure cauldron as a World Cup.

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Oscar was on the scoresheet against South Africa

But Chelsea's Willian has made a place in the squad as good as his, after an exquisite debut term at Stamford Bridge. He came on for the second half, his assured touch and passing ability an evident asset to what has become a well-oiled machine on Big Phil's watch.

Brazil's next two friendlies are against Panama and Serbia on June 3 and 6, respectively. By then, the World Cup squad will have been known for almost a month and the final tweaks will have been completed before the most important tournament for the country in over half a century.

As the clock winds down to May 7, the day of that announcement, Scolari continues to whittle down his options. Now he must use club form to make his final cuts before the end of the European season.

But in the Selecao's final friendly before the World Cup squad is named, the side ran like clockwork.

Scolari has evidently found his players. He now needs the right balance and formation.

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