In my opinion, the squad that Luis Felipe Scolari chose to represent Brazil at their own World Cup was the worst Brazil squad ever assembled. What was supposed to be a sixth World Cup championship on home soil ended in utter humiliation and exposed an assortment of flaws and frailties. Here, I’ll take a look at those who made it, and those who will hopefully be called up in future.
The keepers chosen for the World Cup were Julio Cesar (Toronto FC), Jefferson (Botafogo) and Victor (Atletico Mineiro)
At the 2010 World Cup, Brazil were coasting to victory against Holland, when Julio Cesar let a Wesley Sneijder cross through his fingers to let Holland back into the game. Brazil would go on to lose and Julio Cesar blamed himself for the defeat. At the 2014 World Cup, Julio Cesar didn’t really put a foot wrong. He was badly let down by the players in front of him and was fighting a losing battle throughout the games against Germany and Holland. He’ll probably be cast aside now, but I for one will always consider Julio Cesar to be up there with Taffarel, Marcos and Dida as top-class Brazilian World Cup keepers.
The other two keepers taken to the World Cup are Jefferson and Victor. Neither have really staked a claim to replace Julio Cesar as the No.1, so I would like to see the next Brazil manager take a punt on Gabriel, the 21 year-old who currently plays for Milan. He may well have to leave Milan to secure regular first team football, but he impressed me during the 2012 Olympics and was the Brazil keeper when they won the 2011 U20 World Cup. If given the chance, Gabriel could be first choice keeper for years to come.
Right-back has been a bit of a problem area for Brazil ever since Cafu retired. The job has been shared over the last 8 years between Dani Alves and Maicon, both of whom were chosen by Scolari for the 2014 World Cup.
Dani Alves is great when he gets forward to link up with the wonderful attacking players that Barcelona have. He is an abysmal defender though, and seems to have lost a yard of pace of late. Take a look at the German defensive line. They play a flat back four, and occasionally, Lahm gets forward; but more often than not they keep their discipline, sit back and focus on their defensive duties. They are not frustrated midfielders or wingers who feel as though they are missing out on the fun just because they have to stay back.
Compare and contrast this with the Brazil team. Dani Alves, David Luiz and Marcelo all love to bomb forward and join in the attack. At most, one of them should do it at any given time whilst the other three defenders stay back. The fact that all three of them go forward at the same time is just one of many reasons as to why Brazil are so weak defensively.
For me, whilst he is a good footballer, Dani Alves is not a great right-back. He is no Cafu, who used to be able to get forward at will, but would always get back to defend at a canter if possession was lost. He was as fit as a fiddle and could also defend.
Behind Dani Alves at the start of the World Cup was Maicon. Four years ago, he was exceptional. He could defend well, but could also time attacking forays into the opposition territory to perfection. The last two or three years have not been kind to Maicon however, and he is a shadow of the player he used to be. The fact that he was a better alternative to Dani Alves in the latter stages of the tournament says more about Dani Alves and the dearth of talent that Brazil have in all positions right now.
Going forward, there are options for Brazil to explore in this area, particularly when you consider the fact that Brazil won the 2011 U20 World Cup, the 2013 & 2014 Toulon Tournaments and had a very promising team at the U17 World Cup in 2013 (more on them later). However, if you are looking for players who are already established, then surely Rafael at Manchester United could have been given a chance to stake a claim? He seems to have been punished for making a costly mistake in the early stages of the Olympics Final. Another option is Danilo, who is the regular first choice right-back at FC Porto.
So, my verdict is that either Rafael or Danilo should have been considered for the World Cup squad, and they should definitely now be given an opportunity to show they are worthy of a place in the Brazil side.
Marcelo and Maxwell were drawn in for the left back spot. It is hard to argue that they were the wrong two. Felipe Luis had a fantastic season for Atletico Madrid and has now been snapped up by Chelsea for a cool £20m. However, before the squad was announced, I was hoping that Maxwell and Marcelo would be the chosen two, and so I was happy with the choice.
Marcelo is a top class player, and has age on his side. I can see him remaining as the starting left-back for Brazil for the foreseeable future. The problem with Marcelo though is that if you play him, the right-back needs to be a solid and disciplined player who puts his defensive duties first. You can’t play two marauding fullbacks anymore when the center of your defense and your defensive midfield is so lacking in discipline.
Maxwell is far more defensively sound than Marcelo, and is no shrinking violet when it comes to attacking play either. However, he has been overlooked for most of his career despite playing at some of Europe’s top clubs, and will probably now be cast into the wilderness.
Going forward, it would be nice to see one of Alex Sandro of FC Porto, Alex Telles of Galatasaray or Wendel of Bayer Leverkusen given opportunities to show that they can rival Marcelo for a starting berth. Alex Sandro, like Rafael, appears to be paying the price for the unsuccessful Olympic campaign. Luis Felipe, who has just been signed by Chelsea, would have been an ideal choice, but Scolari didn’t seem to fancy him because he puts more of a focus on defending rather than attacking.
What of Brazil’s center backs? Thiago Silva is a world class center-half, of that there is no doubt. He can’t do it all on his own though, and as far as I am concerned David Luiz proved once and for all in the games with Germany and Holland that he is not a top class defender. He may well blossom into a semi-competent defensive midfielder, but I for one don’t want to see him line up in the heart of Brazil’s defense ever again.
Manuel Neuer once said that Dante was the best defender he has played behind. I believe that Scolari should have used the Confederations Cup of 2013 to build a partnership and understanding between Dante and Thiago Silva. Instead he went with Luiz, and we all witnessed how that panned out this summer. It is hard to blame Dante for the capitulation against Germany. He was at least trying to keep his shape and discipline whilst others around him were all over the place.
Henrique doesn’t play regularly enough for Napoli, and his inclusion was more a case of Scolari knowing him and trusting him. I very much doubt he’ll be involved in any of the Brazil squads in the near future.
The omission of Miranda, who was a rock in the heart of Atletico Madrid’s title winning team, suggests to me that Scolari didn’t really do much homework as to which players were available to him. To leave out one Brazilian defender from the Atletico Madrid side is careless. To omit both of them is incompetent.
Going forward, Marquinhos at PSG shows lots of promise, as does Juan Jesus at Inter Milan. It’s ironic that Marquinhos may have his chances limited due to the laughably pricey arrival of David Luiz in Paris.
Brazil’s midfield at the 2014 World Cup was an utter disgrace. They were more content with kicking opponents rather than showing any kind of flair or creativity.
I am not entirely sure what it is that Paulinho does, or what he brings to a team. He was atrocious for Tottenham all season, and the fact that Scolari persevered with him for so long in Brazil is testament to the fact that his judgment was way off. The alternatives weren’t much better though.
Fernandinho had a great season for Man City this year and performed well when called upon for Brazil, but then seemed more determined to perform the job of hatchet man. It’s such a tragic waste of talent, as he is more than capable of playing some beautiful football when he wants to.
Luiz Gustavo is decent enough, but shouldn’t really be anywhere near the Brazil side. His sole responsibility was to sit and protect the back four whenever the full-backs (and David Luiz) went forward in search of adventure and glory. He performed that job so well at the Confederations Cup last year, but couldn’t repeat the performances in Brazil.
Hernanes was never given a chance to show what he can do, but when I have seen him play for Inter Milan, he flits from brilliant to abysmal so often over the course of a match that he is clearly considered too inconsistent to run Brazil’s midfield.
Ramires is another player who I am unsure about. He isn’t a defensive player, and doesn’t have the creativity to be a playmaker. So what is his role? I genuinely do not know. He is lauded at Chelsea, but for me, his involvement with the national side is due more to his fitness levels and willingness to run nonstop rather than his footballing ability.
The most worrying thing about this particular department for Brazil is the distinctive lack of any truly viable alternatives.
The attack was a far cry from the flair Brazil is usually known for. Gone are the glory days of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo. Even a Luis Fabiano would have been nice! Instead, at the heart of their attack at the World Cup, Brazil had a choice of Fred or Jo. Both are ordinary at best, and neither of them is blessed with any great pace, trickery, or finesse. Fred was the top scorer in the Confederations Cup in 2013, although that tournament now seems painfully irrelevant and second rate at this juncture.
The wide/creative players in Scolari’s squad were a mixture of the sublime – Neymar and occasionally Oscar, and the ridiculous – everybody else. Hulk failed to score a goal or register an assist throughout the entirety of the World Cup. He at least appeared to try hard in some matches, but his first touch always looked too heavy, and his shooting was all power and no accuracy. His decision making also leaves a lot to be desired.
Willian always looked like a rabbit trapped in the headlights whenever he was called upon, making it hard to believe that he was the same player that performed so admirably for Chelsea last season.
Bernard was another who tried hard, but was unable to make any impact. He seems a little too lightweight at the moment to stamp his authority on a game. The fact that he struggles to break into his club side in Donetsk should preclude him from playing for Brazil.
Neymar was fantastic before he got injured, but not even he could do it all on his own. He was surrounded by such mediocrity that he was constantly fighting a losing battle. He looks set to be the poster boy of Brazilian football for years to come. They will need to rebuild their broken team around him.
Oscar looked like a player who hadn’t had a rest for the last three years. He was leggy and labored, and was only able to show his true brilliance in flashes. However, he showed enough to suggest he still has a part to play in Brazil’s future.
This was meant to be the World Cup where Alexandre Pato joined the list of great Brazilian strikers at World Cup finals. However, injuries and an alarming slump in form have seen him relegated to the bench at Sao Paulo.
Ademilson and Alan Kardec are talked about as potential Seleção forwards, and will hopefully be given a chance in the coming season to prove that they can transfer their form at club and youth level to the senior ranks.
Roberto Firmino had a great season for Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga last term, and is another who needs to be given an opportunity. He is not that well known as yet, but is a star in the making; I can assure you of that.
Another star in the making is young Gabriel Barbosa who plays at Santos. He is only 17 at the moment, but great things are expected of him, and the fact his nickname is Gabigol suggests he knows his way around the penalty box.
Lucas Moura at PSG and Coutinho at Liverpool can both consider themselves unfortunate to be overlooked for the final 23 man squad. Coutinho in particular was magnificent as Liverpool came close to winning a first league title in 24 years.