Film Focus: Brazil's Midfield Balance in Focus Ahead of Panama Clash

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Film Focus: Brazil's Midfield Balance in Focus Ahead of Panama Clash
Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

Over the course of Luiz Felipe Scolari's current 18-month spell at the helm of the Brazil national team—his second term in the job—nigh on everything has gone to plan.

The selecao have restored their reputation, won a trophy and they will now enter the World Cup as favourites on home soil. It is quite some change in fortunes.

It is important, though, that they keep developing both before and during the World Cup. Their strategy and preferred lineup are now well known, sides will have prepared to face them and will have planned to expose their weaknesses. For all Brazil's success in 2013, there are weaknesses.

Throughout the early stages of the Confederations Cup last summer and in several friendly encounters since, Scolari has been confronted with issues in the heart of his side.

Brazil have struck a winning formula and, as such, they have been reluctant to change. However, in games with lesser opposition, or when teams really attacked Brazil, it becomes clear that the combination of Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho is unable to take full control of international games.

Arena TV - B/R annotations
Arena TV - B/R annotations

Against better opponents, they are excellent. The destructive Gustavo is key to winning back possession, while the stamina and work rate of Paulinho is a great asset at both ends of the pitch. The pair's inability to really seize a game by the scruff of the neck, though, has seen alternatives advocated in many quarters.

Throughout 2013, the most vocally supported alternative option was Hernanes, then of Lazio but now of Internazionale. An excellent passer and regular standout in Serie A, many saw him as the key to Brazil becoming more assertive in the centre of the pitch.

There were issues, though. A partnership of Luiz Gustavo and Hernanes was feared to lack dynamism and, thus, was rarely tested. More commonly tested late in friendly encounters was a combination of Paulinho and the former Sao Paulo man. Without the added protection of their primary defensive midfielder, Brazil leaked goals.

However, a viable new option has emerged over the past 12 months. Manchester City's Fernandinho has excelled in the Premier League since moving from Shakhtar Donetsk, proving himself adept at playing in both a holding or box-to-box role. On club form, he would be an immediate pick.

Scolari, though, is unlikely to be swayed from the side that has served him so well thus far. That said, early indications would suggest that Ramires will start ahead of Paulinho in what is close to a full-strength side on Tuesday evening.

The Chelsea man is a natural fit in the role Paulinho has made his own, with few in world football able to match his stamina or speed when racing forward on the counterattack. He does, though, lack the refinement of Fernandinho or Hernanes, albeit making up for it with phenomenal physical attributes.

Scolari will have the chance to look at a new partnership against Panama and consider his options ahead of the World Cup. Besides Hulk's berth on the right of Brazil's attack, central midfield is the only position still being debated.

Hassan Ammar/Associated Press
Can Ramires seize his opportuniy against Panama?

A fixture with Serbia on Friday will provide a greater test for the hosts and, indeed, the key task on Tuesday will be to gain match practice without picking up any further injury concerns.

There is a chance for the selecao's midfielders to state a case for inclusion, though, and Ramires in particular could cast real seeds of doubt in his manager's mind if he can put on a show just days ahead of Brazil's World Cup opener.

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