With little over two months remaining until the 2014 World Cup gets underway in Brazil, preparations are being finalised among the 32 squads who will head to the competition in the hope of returning as national heroes.
For no nation, though, is that pressure more intense than for hosts Brazil. The selecao are always considered favourites for success in their homeland when the World Cup comes around, but on home turf and surrounded by the passion created by the competition, that pressure is amplified considerably.
Brazil are the most successful nation in the history of the World Cup, having lifted the title on five separate occasions. The one time they previously hosted football’s greatest prize in 1950, though, the final turned out to be one of the greatest upsets in the history of the sport—the famous Maracanazo defeat to Uruguay.
Following last summer’s victory at the Confederations Cup, FIFA’s “warm-up” event, expectations have gone through the roof. In the space of six months, Luiz Felipe Scolari took the selecao from despair to elation and, in beating Spain so convincingly in the final, sent a real statement of intent ahead of the larger prize this summer.
As expected, the star of the show was 22-year-old sensation Neymar. Now plying his trade with Barcelona, the Brazilian stepped up to guide his side to that success and he will be expected to do as much this summer as the face of the 2014 World Cup.
There have been mixed reviews of his first season in Spain, but for Brazil his record is magnificent. Despite his age, he has amassed an impressive 47 international caps in which he has already found the back of the net 30 times.
Even the records of greats Pele and Ronaldo are conceivably within his reach over the course of his career. Both of those, though, made defining contributions at World Cup competitions. This summer will be Neymar’s first attempt at making his impact on the same stage.
While he is Brazil’s “X Factor,” capable of individual magic, there are other players whose roles are perhaps just as important. Captain Thiago Silva is the rock upon which the team is built, Paulinho is the engine of a very dynamic midfield, while No. 10 Oscar is crucial to the side’s balance. Indeed, the Chelsea star may well hold the key to Brazil’s attempts to seize glory.
Described by BBC South American football correspondent Tim Vickery as “a midfielder in the true sense of the word,” Oscar is a wonderfully gifted player who combines creative abilities with work rate and defensive responsibility.
It is this balance of skills that has seen Oscar become a crucial element of both Scolari’s Brazil and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side. The balance he brings to sides in terms of maintaining a disciplined approach while providing innovation in attack.
Oscar may not be the most magical player to have occupied Brazil’s main creative role over the years, but that should not diminish his standing.
In a country that has suffered over recent years from an abundance of limited defensive midfielders and incredible attacking players whose individual qualities perhaps outweigh their contribution to the team dynamic, his very modern style is a blessing.
While Oscar has an impressive scoring ratio of one in three for his country, besides an impressive tally of assists, his biggest contribution to Brazil’s success at the Confederations Cup went largely unheralded.
Indeed, his side’s victory over the all-conquering Spain side of recent years last summer, would unlikely have been achieved without his role in limiting the influence of midfielder Sergio Busquets.
As Bleacher Report’s lead tactical analyst Sam Tighe explained following Brazil’s success, Oscar stuck tight to Busquets for long periods early in the final. The result was that the selecao won the ball high up the pitch and were able to hit Spain quickly in transitional play. Busquets’ role as the key distributor from deep in Vicente del Bosque’s side was greatly limited, adding to the hosts’ dominance.
The attention will once more be upon Neymar this summer, while there are a number of other players in the Brazil squad who attract far more media attention than Oscar. If Brazil are to claim glory on football’s biggest stage this summer, though, the Chelsea player’s contribution will doubtless have been key.
His understated manner and shy demeanour sees attention largely head in other directions, but the excellence of Oscar as the focal point of Brazil’s side should not be underestimated. Just 22, the intelligence of his contributions are even more impressive.