The moment of truth is almost upon us. In two short days, Brazil will open the FIFA World Cup, against Croatia, at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo.
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, upon naming his 23-man squad for the tournament at the beginning of May, did not pull any great surprises. After an excellent run of form, which includes just one defeat in the last 12 months, his first-choice team is as good as defined as well.
For the most part. If the last two friendlies have brought anything to the 2002 World Cup winner's attention, it is the promising performances of Chelsea midfielder Willian.
Two anonymous showings from Oscar during Brazil's warm-up friendlies last week have suddenly cast his Chelsea teammate into the limelight, and possibly pole position to take the central midfield role in front of Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho.
Never before under Scolari's tenure has Oscar's place been under such threat. Having seen off the likes of Paulo Henrique Ganso, Lucas Moura and Philippe Coutinho to make the Selecao playmaking role his own, his greatest rival now comes in the form of a player whose versatility has seen him make a sharp ascension to the national ranks.
Speaking immediately after the friendly against Serbia on Friday, Scolari said that whilst his players are physically prepared, there is still time to prepare the side tactically before Thursday's kick-off, as reported by Reuters Brazil (link in Portuguese).
And how Scolari wants to shape his side will determine who takes to the field. With Oscar in the team, the formation is more likely to bend towards the commonly favoured 4-2-3-1.
The 22-year-old is far more inclined to get forward and aid Fred and Neymar in attack. He has a keen eye for goal, managing double figures for the Stamford Bridge outfit in his second season.
In addition to goalscoring prowess, he has the ability to prise open defences, something that, in a line-up with just one recognised centre-forward, will be a key asset during the World Cup.
Willian may be more defensively minded, but his eye for a pass is also intact. From watching his displays last week, he gave all the right signals that he could be a fantastic midfielder for Brazil during this tournament.
If he were to be picked, he is likely to start in a more withdrawn role than Oscar, resembling a 4-3-3.
He can dribble, pass, shoot, and vitally, he is capable to track back and is willing to put in a defensive shift.
Paired with Paulinho in the middle of the park, the two would have the opportunity to develop a potentially fruitful understanding.
With Oscar's more advanced habitat, Paulinho's opportunities to burst forward are limited. Should he be caught out of position, Luiz Gustavo and the entire back line would be exposed.
But with Willian in the centre of midfield, one of the pair can go forward while the other remains anchored in the middle. The tactic is only feasible with Willian; Oscar has neither the mindset or physical strength to compete in what could turn into a scrappy midfield tussle, especially against teams whose principal objective is to stifle Brazil's creativity and supply line.
Willian's impact during Brazil's last two friendlies was greater than that of Oscar, who looked jaded after a long season and the birth of his first child. In both instances, Brazil looked a more threatening prospect once Oscar had departed.
As the man in form, during a competition as short as the World Cup—a maximum of seven games—Willian could well have the upper hand in Scolari's mind.
Yet Oscar is an established part of Scolari's Selecao setup. He was ever-present during the side's run to the Confederations Cup crown and has done more than enough to merit inclusion.
Familiarity and confidence are two major traits in Felipao's philosophy which has seen Brazil make such rapid progress under his tutorship. Whilst he has dismissed out of hand the idea of a “Scolari family,” he still bears resemblance to a paternal-like figure stalking the touchline, a protective arm around anyone's shoulders when needs be.
Back when he named this World Cup squad, Scolari singled out Oscar for special praise, describing him as “one of the best in the world," (link in Portuguese). The No. 11 has earned his place in this team and Scolari would have to be in a ruthless mood to dispense with someone on the evidence of two friendlies.
This team has grown together. Now it can win together.
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