Will Brazil Pay Big Price for Stubborn Luiz Felipe Scolari Picking Favourites?

Robbie Blakeley@@rio_robbieSpecial to Bleacher ReportApril 17, 2014

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 05:  Head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari of Brazil looks on during the International Friendly match between South Africa and Brazil at FNB Stadium on March 05, 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)
Gallo Images/Getty Images

Great credit must be given to Luiz Felipe Scolari for the way he has transformed the fortunes of the Brazilian national side. After a slow start in the early months of 2013, his record from the Confederations Cup onwards is outstanding.

The Selecao have played 13 games since their Cup opener against Japan on June 15 last year, winning on 12 occasions and scoring an incredible 39 goals. Additionally, the team has scored five or more on three separate occasions.

The days of disillusion and disappointment under Mano Menezes have been consigned to history. A dismal showing in the 2011 Copa America followed by failure in the 2012 Olympic final against Mexico sowed too many seeds of doubt prior to a vitally important World Cup.

Julio Cesar is Brazil's No. 1 despite not playing regular first team football for much of the season
Julio Cesar is Brazil's No. 1 despite not playing regular first team football for much of the seasonJasper Juinen/Getty Images

Understandably, so close to the defining date of May 7 when Scolari will name his 23-man squad, his cast list is filling rapidly. But has everyone been given a fair crack of the whip?

Big Phil has faced probing questions about certain members of his playing staff, who find themselves in favour despite failing to convince domestically.

One name constantly highlighted is that of goalkeeper Julio Cesar (link in Portuguese.) Barring injury, he will be between the sticks on June 12 against Croatia in the tournament's opener.

But during the past year Scolari has neglected to examine other options thoroughly.

March 5 was the final international friendly prior to the World Cup squad announcement and presented the perfect opportunity to test a potential rival for the No. 1 jersey.

Philippe Coutinho's excellent form has been ignored by Scolari
Philippe Coutinho's excellent form has been ignored by ScolariAlex Livesey/Getty Images

Instead, Cesar played the full 90 minutes while second-choice Jefferson of Botafogo kicked his heels on the bench.

There is certainly a case to be put that the Brazil-based stopper is better prepared than his rival. Cesar has been inactive for much of the season, having played second fiddle to Robert Green at Queens Park Rangers.

He now finds himself playing in Major League Soccer with Toronto, and whether the testing he will receive is sufficient for the rigours of a World Cup is questionable.

But while Jefferson still finds himself in contention for a place in the starting line-up, there remains one omission from Brazil's squads that is difficult to fathom.

Playmaker Philippe Coutinho is in the form of his life and has played an instrumental part in Liverpool’s title challenge, something that if they were to succeed must surely go down as one of the greatest achievements of the modern era.

The little Brazilian was magnificent against Manchester City last Sunday, scoring the winner in a highly charged game, and he was equally excellent when Liverpool destroyed Arsenal 5-1 in early February.

Yet on the international stage he has constantly found himself behind Bernard.

Bernard (middle) has struggled at Shakhtar Donetsk and has been linked with a move to Chelsea
Bernard (middle) has struggled at Shakhtar Donetsk and has been linked with a move to ChelseaEfrem Lukatsky

The former Atletico Mineiro forward is clearly a prodigious talent, but Bernard has struggled in Ukraine since moving to Shakhtar Donetsk and made just eight league appearances for his new club.

Coutinho, on the other hand, has flourished alongside Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez at Liverpool. The idea of him forming an offensive trio with Oscar and Neymar in national colours is positively mouthwatering.

A look at his stats for the season prove the impact the Brazilian has had at Anfield. In 29 games, he has clocked five goals and six assists, per ESPN.

More importantly, he has grown in the big games—encounters with direct rivals that Liverpool have overcome in their surge towards a first league title since 1990.

Bernard has been linked with a summer transfer to Chelsea to join their ever-expanding Brazilian cast, as reported by ESPN Brazil, and playing at a club of that calibre can only benefit his career in the future.

But the Shakhtar forward remains a front-runner for the upcoming World Cup. The FIFA tournament is all about big games and, in such a short space of time, can be fiercely unforgiving.

It is a seven-game run, maximum, with little time to play yourself into form. Players must hit the ground running.

Given his exhilarating form, coupled with a Premier League winners' medal—should Liverpool win their remaining games—few would bet against Coutinho continuing his streak and making a difference in Brazil.

Except, it seems, Scolari. Bernard and Cesar were part of the Confederations Cup success, in some ways the opening chapter of Felipao’s glorious return.

That may have played in their favour for now, but could give Scolari cause for regret in the not-too-distant future.


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