5 Biggest Issues Facing Brazil as They Prepare for World Cup 2014
World Cup 2014 promises to be the biggest event in Brazilian football history and the expectation of a strong host nation is overwhelming. Will the Selecao be ready to meet what is demanded of them? This is the question on the minds of football fans nationwide.
There is a genuine expectancy of Brazil whenever they enter a competition. Second-best is not accepted from those who pull on the famous Canarinha and one bad match can define a career.
Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has a formidable task on his hands, having only taken up the job last month, with the five-time world champions barely registering inside the top 20 nations worldwide—according to FIFA rankings.
What, then, are the major issues facing the new manager ahead of the tournament in 18-months time?
Consistency of Selection
Since the 2010 World Cup, right through the reign of Mano Menezes as Brazil manager, the Selecao have had difficulties offering a consistent approach in terms of selection and game plan.
Players have been called and dropped seemingly at the drop of a hat, while formations have varied from 4-2-3-1, to 4-2-2-2, to 4-3-1-2 and even 4-6-0.
It is little surprise that Brazil have faced difficulties winning games when they have been unable to garner any sort of familiarity over an extended time period.
The lack of competitive games has not helped, with convincing wins over the likes of Iraq, China, Egypt and Equatorial Guinea doing little but increase the bulging bank account of the match promoters.
The CBF has looked to improve matters, arranging friendlies with England, Russia, France and Chile ahead of the Confederations Cup. They could have done with doing so a bit earlier.
Scolari has insisted that he will not drop many of those involved in the recent defeat to England, advocating a consistent squad selection. For Brazil, it is the right approach at present.
Balance in Midfield
Linked once more to the lack of a settled approach, Brazil has also struggled greatly against a series of better opponents to assert authority on a game from midfield.
A partnership of Paulinho and Ramires, both box-to-box midfielders, has been favoured in recent games but has proved flaky. Both England and Colombia found little problem controlling the midfield areas.
Scolari has pretty much always opted to play a recognised defensive midfielder in his sides and, while Sandro may be injured, the likes of Liverpool's Lucas Leiva and Corinthians' Ralf look good options in the role long-term.
Ahead of that, Ronaldinho and Oscar were both utilised against England with only the latter impressing. Former Barca man Ronaldinho impresses at club level, but is he still cut out for the high-intensity of an international midfield? Or, indeed, can his lack of defensive mindset be tolerated.
Lazio's Hernanes is one man that many would like to see complete a three-man central midfield, while Sao Paulo's Jadson and Ganso will feel they still have much to offer at international level.
Could it be that Kaka, though, is set for another return to the Selecao in games to come?
Who to Play Up Front?
For a country that has produced so many elite centre-forwards down the years, Brazil's current lack of a truly dominant No. 9 is a worry for coach Felipao.
Leandro Damiao has the potential to reach the top of the game, but lost form in late 2012 and is inexperienced in real terms. He has improved his all-around game and started 2013 in reasonable shape, but has much to prove.
Sao Paulo's Luis Fabiano has a fine record at international level and has been prolific at club level since his return to Brazil last year. Disappointing against England and already the wrong side of 30, will he be a force in 2014? It would be easy to argue not.
That then brings us to the third of our likely candidates, in the shape of Fluminense's Fred. The best player in the 2012 Brasileirao according to Placar magazine, the former Lyon striker is a magnificent player at club level.
Internationally, though, he has a reputation for failure, enhanced by some highly uninspiring performances at the 2011 Copa America.
Against England, in Scolari's first game in charge, he was outstanding as a second half substitute as he scored and then struck the bar in the space of a few second half minutes.
Scolari realistically has three choices and can afford to take all three to the Confederations Cup this summer. If Brazil are to win the 2014 World Cup, though, one of the trio must raise their game to higher levels.
The Neymar Problem
It sounds idiotic, but one of Scolari's biggest problems in the months to come will be how to best use the talents of Neymar. He is Brazil's best player and, in playing from the left side, is wasted in a team that needs him firing.
Many have advocated playing Neymar as the side's centre-forward, but the current manager has a stated preference for a more traditional target man.
Another option would be to play him off the main striker, slightly ahead of Oscar, with the freedom to roam. That may well be Scolari's preferred option, with a three-man midfield playing behind the trio.
Brazil do lack width and that has been evident for some time. Neymar on the flank, though, is not the best alternative.
It has been an interesting 2013 for the youngster so far, with highs and lows already in abundance despite a lack of meaningful matches. There is surely little doubt, though, that it is Neymar who holds the key to the current Brazil side's fortunes.
Handling the Pressure
In hosting the World Cup, the Brazilian team will of couse benefit from all the advantages that offers in terms of familiarity to their environment and passionate support. All well and good.
They will, though, also face a sizeable downside to their home advantage in the form of the relentless pressure that will fall on their shoulders over the next 18 months.
Where football and their national team is concerned, Brazilians are a demanding bunch. The last time Brazil hosted the World Cup in 1950 they were humbled in by Uruguay in the final game. The Maracanazo, as it is known, is still mourned to this day while goalkeeper Barbosa never recovered from his mistake.
The weight of all that expectation will not be easy to handle, particularly for the side's younger players. At the 2012 Olympic Games, where Brazil have never claimed gold, defenders Rafael and Juan Jesus were involved in a ferocious on-field argument as the pressure clearly got to them.
Such incidents cannot be repeated at the World Cup.
Scolari has turned to experience in order to combat the problem, with the likes of Julio Cesar, Ronaldinho and Luis Fabiano expected to combat the issue. Many, though, would prefer to see Kaka—the choice of Mano Menezes to offer a steadying hand.
The composition of not just Scolari's side but, rather, his whole squad is going to be crucial to Brazil's hopes. He now has 18-months to ensure the balance is right, as players and as individuals.