Following the embarrassment of the 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup, Brazil had to go through a rebuilding period and reevaluate the talent that had been coming from the land of Pele. While a nation that seemed to have a world-class striker in every generation is still looking for a now-elusive no. 9, four other players have shown they can lead the attack and help Brazil become a force in international soccer once more.
As the captain of the national team, Neymar has the weight of his homeland on his back every time he puts on Brazil’s legendary yellow shirt. Unlike so many people who’ve suffered from expectations, he rises and often supersedes them. The two-time South American Player of the Year obviously isn’t a new name to fans of the beautiful game, and at 23, he’s already fifth on the all-time scoring list for Brazil.
For Barcelona, though, Neymar’s added another dimension to his game that can pay dividends for his national team. When Lionel Messi went down with an injury two months ago, the 2011 Copa Libertadores MVP became the main facilitator for the Blaugrana. Currently, he leads La Liga in goals with 14 while being tied for first in assists with five. His previous career-high in assists for the four-time Champions League winners was eight in 26 appearances during his debut season two years ago.
In the Champions League, the 2011 FIFA Puskas Award winner is tied for second in assists with three. With the Santos legend now passing as well as he’s always scored, he’s even more dangerous for the Selecao.
With his club selling their best player during the summer transfer window in back-to-back seasons, Philippe Coutinho has become the leading man for Liverpool. His versatility has been beneficial to his side as he can play anywhere in the attacking midfield and even as a left winger in the forward line.
The 2010-11 Coppa Italia winner made it to last season’s PFA Team of the Year, but he’s taken his game to another level after a crucial change occurred. Since Jurgen Klopp became the manager of the Reds, the 23-year-old has scored four of his club-leading five Premier League goals in his last three games. He’s also second behind James Milner in assists with three.
A former Liverpool player and current Sky Sports pundit praised Coutinho for his current form last week. “He’s an absolute maestro, the way he just seems to find space all the time and picks the right passes, and now he’s adding that vital ingredient, he’s adding goals to his game,” said Jamie Redknapp.
Before the season, many wondered why Pep Guardiola spent €30 million on a player who was supposed to be Franck Ribery’s backup. But now Douglas Costa is looking like a bargain ,and his gaffer wasn’t lying when he stated in the summer, “He can become one of the five best wingers in the world. He has a quality which is hard to find: the quality of his dribbles.”
When he played for Ukrainian powerhouse Shakhtar Donetsk, Costa was mostly used as an inverted right winger so that he could cut inside onto his preferred left foot. But at Bayern Munich he’s mostly played his conventional position of left wing, and it’s paying dividends, as he’s currently tied for first in the Bundesliga with seven assists.
Guardiola, being the tactical mastermind that he is, also likes to play the 25-year-old in the heart of the midfield on occasion. The role seems similar to the one Angel Di Maria played for Real Madrid when they won the Champions League two years ago, and Pep trusts the five-time Ukrainian Premier League winner to play the position at a high level.
“When he plays in the middle, he’s got the intelligence and the eye to spot good situations,” said the four-time La Liga Coach of the Year.
Alex Teixeira has yet to play for Brazil’s senior team, but Dunga should be giving him his first cap soon. A vice-captain at Shakhtar, who currently have 10 Brazilians on their team, Teixeira is in the midst of his breakout season. Alex has used his creativity, pace and composure in front of goal to currently have 26 finishes in 25 appearances for the Miners. The attacking midfielder and winger is already gaining interest from some of the big clubs in Europe.
“What I’ve heard and what my agent has said is that Chelsea, Juventus and PSG have made offers, but Chelsea and Juventus have gone further in the negotiations. All three are big clubs. Wherever I’ll end up, I’ll be happy,” said Teixeira to Lance!, a Brazilian newspaper. It seems Chelsea is his preferred destination, as he said it was his dream to play in the Premier League, and that Jose Mourinho was the best manager in the world.
While none of these players are a classic No. 9s, their scoring prowess, versatility and creativity will create plenty of chances for the Selecao. Dunga will have his work cut out for him finding the right formation and philosophy to accommodate his group of young attackers, but at least a lack of talent will no longer be an excuse.
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