Predicting the Brazil Squad for the 2018 World Cup
With the 2014 World Cup now complete, attention is now turning to the future directions of many sides involved in the tournament and what state they may be in come 2018.
For none more so is that the case than Brazil which, following their calamitous exit from this summer's competition, will have much to prove as to their current standing in the game over the years ahead.
Luckily, the Selecao are always blessed with fantastic options, albeit with some positions currently appearing a little thin on the ground.
What, then, would be a reasonable estimation of how the squad could appear in four years time?
The following (amongst others) can consider themselves highly unlucky not to have made the cut:
Defenders: Auro, Samir, Bressan, Dede, Mayke, Fabinho, Abner
Midfielders: Sandro, Paulinho, Fernandinho, Fernando (Shakhtar), Alex Teixeira, Casemiro
Forwards: Bernard, Alan Kardec, Vinicius Araujo, Otavio
GK: Rafael Cabral
The most talented goalkeeper of his generation, Rafael will be 28 by the time of the 2018 World Cup and hopefully in the prime of his career.
Having made his name at Santos, where he played a major role in winning the Copa Libertadores title in 2011, Rafael moved to Napoli last summer. With Pepe Reina's loan now over, he is expected to be first choice next season.
His first challenge, though, is to overcome a major knee injury suffered in February.
GK: Diego Alves
Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves will be 33 by the time of the 2018 World Cup which for his position is far from over the hill.
To many, it was a surprise that he was not Brazil's keeper at this summer's World Cup, and indeed, he must be one of the favourites to take over the No. 1 shirt ahead of next year's Copa America.
If he can perform well, his 2018 berth may well be as a starter.
Predicting Brazil's third-choice goalkeeper this summer was difficult enough without looking four years down the line. However, given the lack of truly outstanding young 'keepers emerging, it is possible that either Jefferson or Victor, both 31 now, will still be around.
If they can maintain their levels in the Brasileirao over the next four seasons then it may be that their experience and mature personalities will play in their favour when it comes to squad selection.
DF: Rafael da Silva
While it may be namesake Rafinha who is likely to come into a starting berth immediately following the World Cup, it is Manchester United's Rafael who looks most likely to nail down the right-back position long term.
In the 2012-13 season, it appeared he was finally blossoming as a Premier League star but saw his form drop as his side struggled under David Moyes last year. He is one of those Louis van Gaal could really transform with the right guidance.
Strong in attack but also defensively sound compared to many of his rivals, he will be given chances to impress.
Another player likely to contest the right-back position come 2018 is FC Porto's Danilo who is beginning to step up and make a case for a big European move.
Originally a midfielder, Danilo was used at right-back as a rotation option for much of his Santos career, with his best games coming in a box-to-box role.
However, he has improved considerably as a defender in the meantime and has all the technical and physical attributes to reach a very high level.
DF: Alex Sandro
Already being monitored by some of the world's biggest clubs, attacking left-back Alex Sandro will soon find opportunities at the international level come his way.
Another to have made the switch from Santos to FC Porto, he has overcome a slow start to life in Portugal to become a real standout in the league and, indeed, in Europe as a whole.
Filipe Luis will only be 32 in 2018, but it would be a major surprise if he can hold off the challenge of the electric Sandro.
Current first choice for his country and Real Madrid star, Marcelo will only just have tipped 30 when it comes to the 2018 World Cup and has offered little reason to suggest he will not be involved.
This summer's World Cup was a major disappointment in terms of his contribution, but he has given some excellent showings for Brazil in the past and for his club as recently as the Champions League final.
Brazil will need to retain experience in their ranks over the next four years, and Marcelo will be foremost in their thinking when it comes to potential senior players.
DF: Thiago Silva
Brazil captain Thiago Silva will be 33 by the time of the 2018 World Cup, but on current evidence, there is a good chance that he will still be around for a few years yet.
A player whose strengths are largely based around his intelligent positioning, a loss of pace will be little issue to his ability to perform at the top level long term.
He will likely continue as captain for the time being.
DF: David Luiz
Newly signed PSG defender David Luiz had a disappointing World Cup after initially threatening to star, falling apart in the semi-final and third-place play-off.
He will be 31 by the time of the next competition, and the hope must be that he will have ironed out some of his flaws. Even if he hasn’t, he would seem odds on for some role in the squad.
Luiz is far from perfect, but he has his admirers and is popular among the squad. He now has a point to prove, though.
A real star in the making, Marquinhos is the third centre-back currently owned by Paris Saint-Germain who has a real chance of making the squad in 2018.
Having come through the ranks at Corinthians, the former Brazil Under-17 captain spent just one year at Roma before the Parisiens swooped for his signature.
A wonderful reader of the game, he makes up for his slight build with speed and a terrific leap. In the years ahead, he is set to be a fixture at the top of the game.
There are a number of strong defenders coming through in the Brazilian game at present, but it is Botafogo and Brazil Under-20 centre-back Doria who appears most likely to earn a berth.
Tall and powerful, the left-footer also has a touch of class about his game when in possession, and it was the maturity of his game that saw him become a first-team fixture at just 17.
His next step will be to choose a European destination, and the outcome of that move will be important in determining his future.
MF: Luiz Gustavo
In a tournament that will be remembered as a major disappointment for Brazil, Luiz Gustavo was an undoubted success story.
Given that defensive midfielders traditionally improve with age, the Wolfsburg star should be nearing his prime at the ripe old age of 30.
Having proved himself to be capable of shining for Brazil at the highest level, he will now likely take on a senior role within the side that could continue all the way through to 2018 if his form continues.
Now with Manchester City, Fernando came close to playing for Portugal at this summer's World Cup only to be denied by FIFA regulations.
An expert in anchoring the midfield, it cannot be long before Brazil move to bring him into the national team to provide competition for Luiz Gustavo.
In England, he will now have a major platform from which to make a claim for a space in the squad, and the hope must be that he can follow the path of new colleague Fernandinho into the squad.
MF: Lucas Silva
Brazil have had issues in midfield areas over recent years, with a host of talented box-to-box midfielders highlighting a lack of deep-lying playmakers in the local game.
At this past World Cup, the issue led to the Selecao’s defenders going long with their passing. Could Lucas Silva help to change that trend?
The elegant Cruzeiro midfielder is excellent in possession and has made a real difference to A Raposa since he came into the side 18 months ago. Progression to the senior national side would seem a formality.
Set to return to FC Barcelona this summer following a terrific season under Luis Enrique at Celta Vigo, Rafael Alcantara has the opportunity to truly prove himself ready for the big time.
He has moved into a more advanced role over the past couple of years but can play throughout the midfield and could be of use to Brazil in a deeper role, where his passing skills can come to the fore.
In 2018, he will be 25 and should be ready to take on a major role in the side if his development can continue.
As long as he stays fit, Chelsea midfielder Oscar would seem a certainty for inclusion come Russia having already starred at the highest level with club and country.
Still just 22, Oscar has already amassed considerable experience and will continue to add to that over the next four years. He will be a senior player in 2018 and will be expected to take on a leading role.
The hope will be that he continues to grow in confidence when it comes to controlling games over the intervening years, with his abilities too often consigned to a background role.
MF: Philippe Coutinho
Liverpool fans were convinced that midfielder Philippe Coutinho should have been included in Brazil’s plans this summer, and the tournament itself will have done little to change that view.
Under Brendan Rodgers’ guidance, he has developed into an increasingly rounded midfielder and could perhaps play as more of a No. 8 in the years ahead.
With an eye for a pass and excellent dribbling skills, he could be a real asset for the Selecao having got his career back on track over the past two years.
By 2018, Chelsea midfielder Willian will be 29 and could well offer valuable experience to the squad in forward areas.
A player whose intelligence and high general fitness levels should allow him to extend his prime years, he will be a likely inclusion if he is still performing well in the Premier League.
His industry and composure are valuable assets to any side, and he was arguably underused this summer. Whichever manager comes into the job this year will inherit an excellent option.
MF: Lucas Moura
Paris Saint-Germain winger Lucas Moura was one of the most notable omissions from this summer’s World Cup squad and will hope to set the record straight next time around.
A direct runner on the flanks, Lucas’ pace and skill makes him a difficult proposition to deal with for any defence, and his contributions in France are steadily increasing.
In the seasons ahead, he will need to cement himself a first-team berth either in Paris or elsewhere, while he must also make an increased impact when handed an opportunity in a Brazil shirt.
The star of the show for Brazil, Neymar will be 26 by the time of Russia 2018 and ready to make a second splash on the World Cup stage.
Given his country's shortage of quality No. 9s, it will be interesting to see whether he will be tested in a central role. With increased experience and muscle mass, he could well evolve into a more than decent centre-forward.
He has never let his country down to date and is set to be in the Selecao for the long haul.
FW: Lucas Piazon
Another wide forward who potentially offers a solution in central areas in the long term, Chelsea-owned Lucas Piazon is a player whom Brazilian management will be watching closely in the years ahead.
One of the top-performing players in the Eredivisie this past season, the 20-year-old scored 11 goals and provided eight assists in the colours of Vitesse Arnhem.
Another loan is his likely next step, needing game time at this early stage of his career. His development, though, is encouraging with his performances in Holland attracting real attention.
Brazil are in need of a No. 9 for the years ahead, and at present, there are few, if any, better options than Guangzhou Evergrande striker Elkeson, scorer of 48 goals in 59 games since arriving in China.
The former Vitoria and Botafogo player broke through as a No. 10, but he was transformed into a striker in his final year in Brazilian football when he finished as Bota's top scorer. He has not looked back since.
His next step must be Europe, and if so, he could be on a fast track to the Brazil squad.
FW: Gabriel Barbosa
Still just 17 years old and already a regular in the Santos starting line-up, forward Gabriel Barbosa currently appears the most likely of Brazil's young attacking ranks to make a breakthrough ahead of 2018.
Given the club from which he has emerged, combined with his early entrance into the first team, comparisons with Neymar are understandable. However, he is a different style of forward to his senior.
More of a powerful presence, Gabriel's excellence lies in creating space with his fine close control and making room for a shot with his left foot. He is not a majestic dribbler in the manner of his former colleague, but he possesses all the intelligence and the technical quality needed to reach the top.