When Brazil won the 2013 Confederations Cup and trounced Spain in the final, 3-0, they served notice to the rest of the world a year in advance of the World Cup—the Selecao aren't to be trifled with.
Led by the explosive Neymar and the sturdy Thiago Silva, this year's iteration of Brazil isn't quite as flashy in the attack as previous generations, but they are one of the more well-balanced teams in this tournament.
How will the Brazilians line up, though? Who will answer the pressing questions at the forward position? Let's take a closer look.
Here is the full 23-man roster:
|GK||Julio Cesar||Toronto FC|
|DEF||Thiago Silva||Paris Saint-Germain|
|FWD||Hulk||Zenit St. Petersburg|
And here is the starting lineup:
|Brazil Starting XI|
|Ben Smith, BBC|
Luiz Felipe Scolari certainly has his favorites, and the lineup above was made with them taken into consideration. Perhaps the thinking is fairly simple: After winning the Confederations Cup with the above group and embarrassing Spain in the process, why mess with a good thing?
There could be several key decisions to make, of course, as the tournament continues. While Silva, Marcelo and Dani Alves seem like locks to regularly start in defense, could Scolari consider going with Dante over David Luiz at some point? Luiz was utilized as much as a central midfielder as he was a center back this year by Jose Mourinho, after all.
Still, Luiz has played well for Brazil and complements Silva nicely. And his presence in the back four virtually ensures that Brazil has the most athletic defense in the tournament. He'll likely keep his starting place, but a poor performance could see Dante get a promotion into the starting 11.
Georges Sessions of Sambafoot thinks Dante will ultimately play an important part for Brazil:
Luiz is likely to be Silva’s preferred centre back partner, as he was in the Confederations Cup, but Dante will be expected to play a part in this tournament. He will be the third choice central defender and any suspension to Silva or Luiz will see the Bayern defender thrust into the action. Though he will start the competition on the bench do not be surprised if he ends it in the starting eleven for one reason or another.
Central midfield will also be interesting. Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho seem like the probable pair to stay in the central midfield, with Gustavo providing support for the back four and Paulinho playing a box-to-box role. The former is as steady as they come, while the latter has been quite good for the national team and was excellent in spurts for Tottenham this season.
But again, Scolari has options. Fernandinho was a huge part of Manchester City's Premier League-winning side this year and could play either as a true defensive midfielder or in a box-to-box role. Luiz could step in front of the back four and play in the midfield, as he often did for the Blues. Ramires has always put his best foot forward for Brazil, while Hernanes played well for Inter Milan and offers a bit more play-making ability from a holding position.
Hernanes, for his part, just seems thrilled to even be included in the squad, as he told Sky Sports 24 in an interview, via Football Italia:
It has given me a crazy joy because it was the task of a lifetime for me to get into this group. I am very happy and proud to have reached this moment of my career. For a Brazilian player, playing in the World Cup for the national team on home soil is the best of the best.
Kaka’s exclusion? When I played video games when I was younger, he was already a champion and I called him the monster! For me he will always remain a great player. It wasn’t a surprise that he wasn’t included.
I think Scolari has built up his team little by little and this decision is in keeping with the others he has made over time.
The depth in the midfield is a good problem to have for Scolari. This isn't a question of finding a good combination of players—that seems inevitable—but rather about finding the best.
The attack has its own uncertainties. One thing is unquestioned: Neymar will start every match, and he will likely be positioned on the left wing. After that, it's all up in the air.
The next most likely starter to keep his role throughout is Oscar in the No. 10 role. He faltered a bit for Chelsea down the stretch, but he's Brazil's best option situating in the hole behind the striker. Willian could also play in that role, and he's also in competition for the open right-wing position.
The incumbent there is Hulk, but he seems to be losing his grip on the position. Both Willian and Bernard offer Scolari strong options on the right, and it wouldn't be shocking if the trio was each given a start in the group stage to prove their worth.
The decision at center forward remains two-pronged: Do you continue to utilize a traditional striker or play Neymar in the role, and if you choose the former, do you stay with Fred or give Jo a shot?
While a healthy Diego Costa would have solved this dilemma—he chose to play for Spain instead—it seems likely Fred will keep his spot. But again, it wouldn't be shocking to see both players utilized.
No matter which direction Scolari goes, he'll have a ton of talent to work with. This isn't the most traditional of Brazilian sides, with a defense that is arguably stronger than the attacking talent, but Brazil provides plenty of problems for opponents. They are a high-pressing team that is devastating on the counter-attack—just ask Spain—but they are more than skilled enough to play the possession game and keep an opponent chasing.
That versatility—along with the fact that even the team's weaknesses don't seem that, well, weak—is why they are a major favorite to win the title in their home country, even with the pressure being at home will bring. There are 31 other countries quite wary of this Brazilian squad.