2010 WORLD CUP PREVIEW: BRAZIL
The only team in World Cup history to play in every instance of the event returns again with the same high hopes. As the perceived "World's Greatest Football Team," every Brazil squad enters with expectations of greatness. While qualifying under head coach Dunga had its rocky moments, the Selecao came away as the top qualifiers in CONMEBOL.
North Korea: 6/15
Ivory Coast: 6/20
Analysts like to throw around the title "Group of Death" every four years to the most difficult of all groups. This year, most argue that Brazil and their Group G counterparts fit this billing. Its hard to argue otherwise with Brazil (FIFA Ranking: 1), Portugal (FIFA Ranking: 3) and Ivory Coast (FIFA Ranking: 27) all within the same group.
The draw was kind to the Brazilians in one sense, however, with an opening match against the weakest team in the group, North Korea (FIFA Ranking: 106). Any rust can be shaken off easily during this warm up.
Once the preliminary match is over, Brazil will have to buckle down and fight for every point. With three points in hand, a second match against the Ivory Coast will be a turning point. Didier Drogba and the Elephants will be coming off a hard fought match with Portugal either battling for their first points or riding a high. Expect a thrilling second match for Brazil.
All of this, and perhaps the entire group stage of the 2010 World Cup, leads to the Portugal v. Brazil Group G finale. Long standing cultural animosity, shared languages, and elite players will combine for what can be anticipated as a classic match.
Even if both teams have qualified for the round of sixteen, much will be left to decide between the Team of Shields and the Samba Boys. For as high quality as the Brazilian team may be, any pitch with Cristiano Ronaldo on it is a dangerous one for opponents.
Coach Dunga, a former star for the national team, has such a talented roster to choose from. His most difficult nights will be spent trying to find a combination of superstars who will come together as a fluid team. Recent results show that the coach has his men in line and ready to do what is best for the team.
The Brazilian game is one which focuses on the team concept. Most goals are scored from beautiful passes strung together. More often than not, one player is involved. He is the former FIFA World Player of the Year and current Real Madrid star, Kaka. The young-faced magician can do almost anything on a field from placing a long cross-field pass on the foot of a teammate to finishing a Brazilian attack with a flourish. As Kaka goes, so does Brazil.
Kaka cannot do things by himself. Luckily for him he is surrounded by some of the most talented finishers in the world. Of most importance is the man who has become a striking force at the front of the attack, Luis Fabiano. He is a world-class finisher, the perfect striker for the Brazilian attack.
Most of the attention in soccer falls on the men who are involved in scoring, this is no different for the Brazil team. They do have ample resources in defense and goal, though.
Often overlooked, but an integral part of the long reaching success of this team, is the goalkeeper, Julio Cesar. Perhaps he is not the strength of the team, but by no means does he present a gaping hole. His goal is defended by more of the best players on the planet. Daniel Alves, the right-back for the team, has been called the "best right-back in the entire world" by the Barcelona team President, Joan Laporta.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
It is much easier to list the strengths of this team. They are strong at all levels. They play a fluid brand of soccer. They have players who are world class in every position.
In terms of specific areas where Brazil looks to completely obliterate their competition, one can look to set pieces. Many goals are the direct result of a free kick or corner kick. Brazil is extremely dangerous when the ball is not moving. This is not to say they are any less dangerous when in play, only that the services from Kaka and his mates are usually pristine and the finishes from Fabiano, Robinho, and Adriano are usually on point.
To find a weakness in the Brazilian team, one must look at two very different places. Strategically, Brazil can lose patience over the course of a game. During the qualification period, Brazil was involved in scoreless draws with Argentina, Bolivia, Columbia, and Venezuela. These matches were marked by a defensive stance by the opponents. With an almost complete lack of counter attacking opportunities, the Brazil side grew frustrated and lost their signature style.
The second weakness for this team comes from off the field. No other nation puts as much pressure on its team as Brazil. Even during the early stages of qualifying, when the team was not taking max points from each decision, national pressure grew on both Dunga and the players. Despite finishing CONMEBOL qualifying with the most points, the fans were not forgiving. Lost points during the first two matches in South Africa will create a panic within the South American nation, a panic which might influence the play on the field.
IT WOULD BE A GREAT WORLD CUP IF
Brazil is spoiled. They have won this competition five times. Winning again will certainly be cause for a Carnival-type celebration. Fans will want more, though. They will want decisive victories over North Korea and the Ivory Coast. They will want a dismantling of their rivals from Portugal. They will not want to sweat out any time during the round of 16 or the quarterfinals. They will want skillful execution in the semifinals. And they will want a Brazilian display of dominance in the finals.
Is this too much for a fan base to ask?
IT WOULD BE A DISASTER IF
Plain and simple for the Brazilian team, win it all or be considered losers. Anything less than a final game appearance will be considered a disaster. A national emergency might be called if they drop points, or worse lose outright, to any of their group opponents.
For Brazil, it is truly all or nothing.
Brazil has the players, they have a quality coach, they have the strategy, they even have the experience of winning in South Africa after their Confederations Cup victory. I see them potentially dropping a point to either Ivory Coast or Portugal, but they will most likely win the group and leave the other two teams fighting for a spot in the round of 16. A group win will present Brazil with a match against Chile, probably, or Honduras, less likely. Either way, Brazil should win. All eyes will then be on a hypothetical quarterfinal match-up with the Netherlands, a team that rolled through qualifications.
No matter who Brazil faces, they will be the favorites to win. With this said, there are a handful of teams that could surely beat them. After the round of 16, expect the unexpected. Or expect the always predictable Brazilian run to the Cup. Neither result would be completely surprising.