Brazil's World Cup dream lives on, and while they are yet to fully convince, the Selecao have plotted a relatively untroubled path to the second stage of the competition—once more topping their group.
Yet, upon closer examination, it is clear that Luiz Felipe Scolari's side have much to work on if they are to claim a historic sixth world title success and a first on home soil next month.
Unconvincing for long stages of all three fixtures thus far, their unbeaten record is testament more to the talent within their ranks than any form of cohesion in their performance. Something has to change.
In the eyes of many of the country's fans and professional observers, there are a number of players whose performances have not been up to scratch led by Dani Alves, Hulk and, particularly, midfielder Paulinho.
So poor was the latter’s contribution against Cameroon last time out that he was substituted at half-time, with Fernandinho the beneficiary on that occasion. The Manchester City star did not disappoint, however, altering the pace of the game with immediate effect and getting on the scoresheet late in the tie.
For Scolari, it would have been a demonstration of what his side has lacked in central areas. Fernandinho, while also tracking back, began running beyond his forward line and opening space for the likes of Oscar behind. It made a considerable difference.
Making such treks forward had been a major feature of Paulinho’s game at the heart of Brazil’s midfield, but he has not been meeting such requirements recently. Whatever the reason, he has been lethargic, and Brazil have suffered as a result.
Providing such energy was Paulinho’s outstanding virtue. He does not possess the passing abilities of Hernanes or even Fernandinho, but he always provided dynamism to complement the role of Luiz Gustavo.
Without that movement, Brazil have increasingly looked to bypass the midfield, with Thiago Silva and David Luiz playing more long balls in recent games than in previous fixtures under Scolari.
The game with Cameroon was, it now appears, Paulinho’s last opportunity to prove himself to Scolari. Fernandinho is set to deputise from the start of the upcoming clash with Chile, and it is a switch that has been a long time coming.
Fernandinho has had his doubters over the years but has shown over the last 12 months with Manchester City that he can hold his own in midfield at the very highest level. Had it not been for Yaya Toure’s remarkable exploits, he may well have been the club’s player of the season.
Felipao’s faith in his loyal servants' abilities is admirable and has often brought out the best in those players, but he cannot afford at this stage of the competition to ignore consistently poor form.
Introducing Fernandinho would not only be a selection call merited on recent form, but it would also send out a message to other underperforming members of the side that their places are not guaranteed. From now on, with opposition improving, nothing less than a top showing can be tolerated.
The City man's own inclusion will also be under scrutiny on Saturday, but now is the time when the best players step up, and he has done so many times in the past—albeit that the current pressure Brazil are under is incomparable.
Chile will fly out the blocks as per usual, and Brazil must be ready for the force that will hit them full-on come Saturday evening. If there are weak links in the chain, now is the time to act.