6 Obstacles Brazil Must Overcome to Secure World Cup Glory
Eleven wins in their past 12 matches should mean that Brazil approach the knockout rounds of the World Cup full of confidence.
However, a series of disappointing recent performances have added to doubts in the minds of many supporters. With Jorge Sampaoli's vibrant Chile side lying in wait next up, there is much for Luiz Felipe Scolari to be occupying his time with.
Brazil have much to work on and many challenges to overcome if they are to achieve their overall aim of lifting a sixth world title.
What, then, will be the Selecao's big obstacles en-route to success?
What to Do If Neymar Fails
Three games in and Neymar has four goals and two Man of the Match awards to his name. If there were questions about how Brazil would cope with the pressure of hosting the World Cup, their biggest star has shown that he was born for such an occasion.
Throughout his career, Neymar has craved the limelight and has saved many of his career-defining displays for the big occasion. More than simply being an outstanding footballer, he is a showman.
Without him, though, Brazil are a very dry and uninspiring side—with only Oscar of the current starting XI showing any real creativity.
If Neymar should fail to fire in any of the Selecao's remaining four games, should they reach the final, Brazil will need someone else to step up, or a combined team effort.
Fortunately, given Neymar's continued excellence in national team colours, it is a situation they are yet to show that they can deal with.
How to Combat Chile's High Press
Jorge Sampaoli's Chile side are Brazil's next opponent and have shown already this tournament that they have the ability to trouble any side in the competition.
With Juventus star Arturo Vidal set to return after being rested for their clash with Netherlands, La Roja will be back to full strength and eager to claim another giant killing.
The speed with which Chile attack and the relentlessness of their pressing without the ball will test Brazil, but also open up space behind the defence for the Selecao to counter themselves. For Chile's game to be effective, the whole side has to push up together.
David Luiz and Thiago Silva will be given their sternest examination yet, while both full-backs must be more dedicated to their defensive work than they have been.
If they can supress Chile as an attacking force, Brazil have all the assets to strike at the other end.
Dealing with the Hulk Issue
Absent from the draw with Mexico through injury, it has been a testing World Cup for Zenit St Petersburg forward Hulk so far. In both games he has played, his form has been disappointing, and such performances are merely a continuation of a long-running trend.
Scolari, though, is reluctant to shift from his tried and tested formula—even if Chelsea midfielder Willian continually presses his strong case for a berth on the right flank.
For now, Brazil have been able to qualify relatively comfortably while carrying under-performing players. As the standard of opposition improves, though, so will their leeway decrease.
Decision time is fast approaching.
Shoring Up the Flanks Ahead of Possible Colombia Clash
The space behind Brazil's full-backs and, in particular, Dani Alves is becoming a real concern, as it has been exploited by several recent opponents.
Not only that, goals and opportunities are also emerging from occasions when the Barcelona man has been too easily beaten by the man he is supposed to be containing. Thus far at the World Cup, he has been one of Brazil's weakest performers.
Against Chile, with the pace of Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas running into the channels, Brazil's full-backs will need to be alert.
However, a potential semifinal clash with Colombia is when the weakness could really be exposed, with Los Cafeteros boasting incredible power and speed in wide areas.
Victor Ibarbo and Juan Cuadrado, backed up by full-backs Pablo Armero and Camilo Zuniga, have been highly effective thus far in the competition, linking well with playmaker James Rodriguez in his central berth.
On current evidence, they will fancy their chances against Brazil's off-colour full-back pair.
Making the Necessary Call on Paulinho
Paulinho's energy was at the heart of the success of Luiz Felipe Scolari's new Brazil last summer, but the time has come for the Tottenham midfielder to be relieved from his duties.
Out of form for much of the English season, Paulinho has brought that disappointing streak and low confidence with him into the tournament, and Brazil have lacked drive as a result.
The lack of dynamism has been evident and, indeed, the balance of the Selecao's final group-stage encounter dramatically shifted with the half-time introduction of Fernandinho.
Not only did the Manchester City man demonstrate a greater range of passing than his teammate, but also ran beyond his forwards on a number of occasions and, as a result, added his name to the scoresheet.
Scolari may not like change, but his side needs a rejig ahead of upcoming tests.
Dealing with the Pressure and Atmosphere Against Top Opponents
From now on, the standard of Brazil's opponent should theoretically rise with each game and, as a possible sixth world title approaches, so will the pressure each player is feeling.
Not only that, as hosts of the competition, they will feel supporters' expectation of success rising with each passing day. Come semifinal time, the atmosphere in the stadia will be as intense as any of them will have experienced.
Of course, to make matters worse, that is when they could face the likes of France—with whom they have recent footballing history. A final, meanwhile, could bring a similar clash with the Netherlands.
And then, of course, there is the spectre of a final against Argentina—the eternal rival.
It is a clash that would have neutrals the world over salivating: Brazil vs. Argentina at the Maracana with a title at stake.
For each player in a Brazil shirt, defeat would simply not be an option. Dealing with that pressure, though, takes great mental fortitude.
Neymar has shown he should be up to the task, but there are 10 players around him who have yet to stick up their hand and be counted this summer.