Will Brazil bring the World Cup back to the home of the beautiful game, exorcising the ghosts of 1950 in the process?
The last time the Brazilians hosted the tournament, they lost, 2-1, to Uruguay in what was the de facto final. The "Maracanazo" was nothing short of a national tragedy, one that's still felt to this day.
For a while, it looked like Brazil was in for more heartache this summer. Then, Luiz Felipe Scolari replaced Mano Menezes, bringing with him a paternal style to help rebuild the players' confidence after the failure of 2010.
The 2013 Confederations Cup final only served to build the hype, with Brazil scientifically dissecting reigning world champions Spain, 3-0. The totality of that result immediately swung the pendulum to the Brazilians, with many backing them to win their sixth World Cup.
Left-back Marcelo admitted that even the Spain squad could only look back on the match and applaud Brazil's performance.
"The Spaniards have always respected the Brazil team," he said to O Globo, via Football Espana. "I remember after the Confederations Cup, a conversation with Iker Casillas, he told me that was why Brazil always had to be respected."
Scolari used the Confederations Cup to figure out his best lineup, and he's made few alterations since then. Here's the roster he's taking with him to the World Cup:
|June 12||Brazil||Croatia||4 p.m. ET; 9 p.m. BST||Sao Paulo|
|June 17||Brazil||Mexico||3 p.m. ET; 8 p.m. BST||Fortaleza|
|June 23||Cameroon||Brazil||4 p.m. ET; 9 p.m. BST||Brasilia|
There were few surprises.
Veteran national team stars Kaka, Robinho and Ronaldinho were all left off, which was arguably the smarter move. None of the three figured to have a significant role with the team, so Scolari was better off taking younger players to get them some experience on the world stage.
"I don't think this lack of World Cup experience will play a big part," he said, per the Associated Press, via ESPN FC. "Our players have been gaining experience in their leagues in Europe, and I don't think they will be affected by this too much, although in certain World Cup situations, having that experience would be important. But I fully trust these players."
It will be interesting to see how younger attackers such as Bernard and Willian are utilized. They could provide speed and creativity off the bench to exploit any fatigue in the opposing defense.
One question Brazil will need to answer is how well it plays from behind. The team never trailed at the Confederations Cup. Overturning a deficit in a friendly and overturning a deficit in a World Cup match are two completely different things.
With Fernandinho and Hernanes, Scolari has two midfielders who could be brought in to secure a result.
|GK||Julio Cesar||Toronto FC|
|DF||Thiago Silva||Paris Saint-Germain|
|MID||Luiz Gustavo||Bayern Munich|
|FWD||Hulk||Zenit St. Petersburg|
This is the most likely starting XI Scolari will use when Brazil takes on Croatia in the World Cup opener:
Scolari's preferred lineup appears to be pretty cut and dried.
Julio Cesar is far and away the most experienced goalkeeper in the squad. His short spell at Toronto FC helped him get back to match fitness.
Dani Alves and Marcelo will be attacking down the flanks at full-back. Both are so adept going forward, but their overlaps can sometimes leave gaps in the back four. Marcelo will have to be careful not to get carried away with needless fouls.
The center-back positions will be occupied by Thiago Silva and David Luiz. Luiz is the only question mark in the back four, as he can be a bit too lackadaisical defensively and can leave the center too exposed. Silva should help rein him in, though.
Luiz Gustavo is the rock in midfield. He offers protection in front of Luiz and Silva, and since he's left-footed, he can naturally cover the left flank for Marcelo's many attacking runs. The Wolfsburg midfielder was the missing piece of the puzzle at the Confederations Cup.
The presence of Gustavo allows Paulinho to be more of the box-to-box midfielder. He's very intelligent when it comes to making runs up the pitch, and his passing ability is the link between the defense and the attack.
His place in the lineup is all but assured, per Jack Lang of Snap, Kaka, Pop:
Luiz Felipe Scolari has guaranteed Paulinho a starting spot for Brazil this summer despite the midfielder's indifferent season at Tottenham.— Jack Lang (@snap_kaka_pop) May 27, 2014
Scolari: "I told him: 'Paulinho, you're not playing, but I'm not worried. You're in my starting XI.' He had tears in his eyes."— Jack Lang (@snap_kaka_pop) May 27, 2014
Up top, Oscar will be sitting in behind the striker. The Chelsea midfielder can drop a little deeper or play in an advanced playmaker role.
Scolari will be using a triumvirate of Neymar, Fred and Hulk in the attack. The Confederations Cup proved that Brazil can win with Fred leading the line. The Fluminense target man held the ball up well and was clinical in front of goal.
Neymar will be the primary creator, cutting inside from the left. Moving to Barcelona ahead of the World Cup was the smarter move, as it's given him a year of experience in one of Europe's top leagues. He also didn't run into the kind of adjustment issues some feared he would.
With Neymar on the opposite side, Hulk's work can often be overshadowed. He's a real Stakhanovite, tracking back when necessary, and his booming left-footed shots are beautiful in their brutality.
There's no need for Scolari to radically alter his lineup from the one he used in the Confederations Cup final. That team was lethal, efficient and breathtaking. If Brazil can repeat that this summer, it will reign victorious on home soil.