Brazil's Key Weapon and Achilles' Heel at 2014 World Cup

Hugo Chavez Barroso@@HugoCarlosChBFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2014

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 06: Oscar  of Brazil kicks the ball during the International Friendly Match between Brazil and Serbia at Morumbi Stadium on June 06, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Neymar, Oscar and Willian are the game-changers that Brazil is setting their sixth world championship hopes on, and they can certainly get the job done on top. However in contrast with other tournaments, Brazil doesn't seem to have one of the most powerful attacks.

No one on this team comes close to matching the skill of a Ronaldo or a Romario, and in order for Neymar and company to succeed, Brazil will have to rely on the elite four on its back line to keep it in the game when things get tough.

Brazil has historically been known for its world-class midfield attackers and forwards, but today it's better known for having one of the best defensive lines. As a whole, that defense is the key in Brazil's road to winning a sixth star, as it brings both defensive and offensive strength to the squad.

Its full-backs play in two of the best and most famous teams on the planet. They typically start on star-studded rosters and are about as effective at defending as they are at attacking. The Brazilian generation that conquered the pentacampeonato (fifth championship) had Cafu and Roberto Carlos. The current one has Barcelona's Dani Alves and Real Madrid's Marcelo.

Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

Alves has been called up to Brazil's national team on a regular basis since 2007. However, it wasn't easy for him to earn a spot in the starting lineup, as he had tough competition for the right full-back position in Maicon.

In his early days with the Selecao, when given the chance to play, he managed to score important goals in the final of the 2007 Copa America and during the semifinal of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup.

Dunga recognized the value of a player like Alves during the 2010 World Cup and gave him a role as a midfielder due to his preference for Maicon in the right full-back position. For the Brazil 2014 cycle, Alves became the side's top option at full-back.

Meanwhile Marcelo has become one of the great left-backs in European football with Real Madrid, and the successor of Roberto Carlos in both the Spanish club and the Selecao. He has taken part in two Olympic Games with the Brazilians, and even though he didn't make the final roster for South Africa, he has been called up regularly since then.

Its center-backs are also showing off in European football, debunking the old myth that Brazilian defenders are not as good as its exported attackers.

Chelsea's David Luiz and Paris Saint-Germain's Thiago Silva make a fierce team, and any striker facing them knows its going to be a hard day. Even given the rich history of the Brazilian national team, it is hard to find two top center-backs pairing up in the same era.

Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

Thiago Silva has proven to be one of the best and most complete defenders in the world. His defensive skills are well-known, but his leadership skills are just as important. And let's face it, if you played for an Italian giant like AC Milan and were regarded as one of the best defenders in the land where catenaccio is old hat, you must be special.

David Luiz is just as good as Silva. He has proven at both club level and with Brazil that he is one of the best defenders in the world. Playing a prominent role in the schemes of Chelsea's defensive masterminds in the last three years has given him a place among elite defenders and a spot in Brazil.

Defensively, Brazil has little to worry about. In perhaps its first real test during the Confederations Cup last summer, Brazil passed with more than satisfactory grades after three shootout games and only three goals allowed in five matches en route to lifting the cup.

It might sound strange, and for some it might even be sacrilege, but this defense's power and its contributions on attack have nothing to envy from any side in the world—not even Italy.

In front of the defensive line, it looks like it would be well aided and complemented by players like Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo. The problem for Brazil is on the back of the defense because its Achilles' heel is its goalkeeper, Julio Cesar.

After winning the treble with Inter Milan in 2010, Julio Cesar had a disappointing game in South Africa that proved costly for Brazil, leading to their elimination against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals. Since then, Julio Cesar's career in Europe has begun to slowly go down hill. He was eventually bumped from his starting position with Queens Park Rangers, who were not even playing in the Premier League.

With Mano Menezes as Brazil's manager, Cesar appeared less and less during 2011 and 2012 due to injuries and technical decisions. However, when Luiz Felipe Scolari took over, he trusted the veteran goalkeeper and started him at the 2013 Confederations Cup.

Something fundamental to any player looking to maintain his form is actually playing competitively on a consistent basis. This is something Cesar has missed for most of the last year.

He was loaned to MLS side Toronto FC at the beginning of this year, but even then, at club level he has seen less than a dozen games in almost a year. It's a far cry from the preparation necessary for international competition, and it's also strange that an elite national team would rely on a player seeing limited playing time at a lower-tier league to start for them in goal.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 06: Goalkeeper Julio Cesar and David Luiz of Brazil sing the anthem before the International Friendly Match between Brazil and Serbia at Morumbi Stadium on June 06, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

When Scolari announced his roster for the World Cup, it was clear that Cesar had his full confidence, but he lacked the confidence of the fans. Many upset fans wondered why Diego Alves had been snubbed in favor of Cesar, but their questions went unanswered.

Too make matters worse, against Serbia, in Brazil's final preparation match at the Estadio do Morumbi last Friday, Cesar didn't look bright.

Serbia had limited chances to score, but one of them came in the first half from the left side of the box. The Serbian attacker tried to cross the ball low, but it went straight to Cesar. The ball almost passed Cesar, but he managed to deflect it to a corner. The deflection nearly ended in an own goal.

Minutes later, without any pressure and with plenty of time to pass, he cleared the ball right to a Serbian forward.

In 2002, Scolari had full confidence in Marcos, who was also his goalie at Palmeiras in the late '90s and regularly played with the Paulista squad. Now it seems that he has put that same confidence in Cesar despite his rust. The obvious problem with this is that if the Toronto FC goalie makes a mistake, it will be reflected on the scoreboard.

It's no secret that Brazilian goalkeepers haven't been known as elite and legendary, but betting on Cesar is undeniably risky. Could it be that 64 years after the Maracanazo tragedy, which was widely blamed on goalie Moacir Barbosa, history could repeat itself?