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After 2014 debacle, Brazil’s renaissance for 2018 World Cup

© Oli Scarff, AFP | Brazil players pose for a photograph ahead of the International friendly football match between Brazil and Croatia at Anfield in Liverpool on June 3, 2018.

Text by Tom WHEELDON

Latest update : 2018-06-10

Brazil have been the World Cup’s most successful team, winning it a record five times. But as 2014’s hosts, they crashed out in the semi-finals, humiliated by Germany’s 7-1 thrashing. Since then, the team have rebuilt.

Instead of the beautiful game, the excruciating game. From the 23rd to the 29th minute of what Brazilians call the Mineiraço (“the catastrophe at the Mineirão stadium”), Germany’s lead went from 1-0 to 5-0.

Repeatedly, the German attack tore through the Brazilian defence to smash the ball into the net, before the TV cameras pivoted to Brazil fans – their faces painted in the team’s yellow and blue; the similarly sunny yellow and green national flag wrapped around their shoulders – in tears.

At half-time, Germany’s manager Joachim Löw told his team that it was too painful and they should start playing worse. “I didn’t want anyone to make a fool of the Brazilians in front of an audience of millions,” he subsequently said.

Despite Löw’s instructions, Germany scored another two goals in the second half. When Brazil’s attacking midfielder Oscar managed a 90th minute consolation goal, there was no celebration.

New manager Tite

Since then, there have been substantial changes to the Brazil national team.

New manager Tite (full name: Adenor Leonardo Bacchi) was appointed in June 2016, after twenty-five years in charge of a series of Brazilian clubs. Tite has moved Brazil back towards their traditional fluid attacking style of play, replacing the more slow-paced approach that failed in 2014. So far, it seemed to have worked. Brazil have sailed through 10 wins in 12 qualifiers to become the first nation to book their place in the World Cup.

Not only has Tite taken Brazil back to the tactics of their celebrated past, he has also made some crucial personnel changes. Notably, in the team’s 2014 starting lineups, then-Barcelona superstar Neymar was invariably the only forward to play for a top club.

The other two strikers in Brazil’s front three, Fred and Hulk, played for undistinguished teams – Brazil’s Fluminese and Russia’s Zenit Saint Petersburg respectively. And at the World Cup, it was easy to see why. Their play was as dull as their names. Neither scored a single goal.

No more over-dependence on Neymar

In their place, Tite has brought impressive new talent to the fore, bringing in Liverpool’s Roberto Firminho and Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho, neither of whom were in Brazil’s 2014 World Cup squad. Firminho was a key part of the Liverpool side that reached the 2017-18 Champions League final; the club’s manager Jurgen Klopp has described him as its “engine”. He showed similar skill for his country in the June 3 friendly against Croatia, scoring the second goal in Brazil’s decisive victory.

Coutinho also played a strong role in that game, providing the assist for Neymar’s goal. This follows a statistically impressive season, with 8 goals in 18 appearances since he joined Barcelona from Liverpool in January 2018.

With that goal set up by Coutinho, Neymar allayed concerns about his fitness for the World Cup, after suffering a foot and ankle injury while playing for PSG in February. Nevertheless, his understudy at the tip of Brazil’s attack, Gabriel Jesus, is one of the World Cup’s most promising new players. The 21 year-old Manchester City striker has scored 20 goals in 39 appearances for his club since his signing in 2017, alongside a tally of 9 goals in 16 matches for the national team since his first cap in 2016.

Changed defence

Although the most exciting Brazil players to have broken through since 2014 are in the attack, Tite has still managed to make some important modifications to the team’s defence. David Luiz – the centre-back and captain who seemed helpless in the face of German onslaughts in last time’s semi-final debacle, and whom former Manchester United right-back, now football analyst, Gary Neville described as playing as if he were “controlled by a 10 year-old on a PlayStation” – will not be going to Russia.

This time, Brazil’s first choice centre-backs will be playing in their first World Cup. Tite has chosen 24 year-old Marquinhos on the back of five years of solid performances for PSG, alongside Internatiozale’s 33 year-old Miranda – something of a late bloomer, who, in the 2017-18 season, was a linchpin of his club’s first Champions League qualification in six years.

Behind these two will be Roma goalkeeper Alisson, a key player in his club’s run to the 2017-18 Champions League semi-finals. He did not concede a single goal at home in Europe’s competition until the club was eliminated in the penultimate round, attracting the likes of Liverpool and Real Madrid. Clearly, Alisson is a class above Brazil’s first choice goalkeeper at the 2014 World Cup, Júlio César, who at that point had been deemed surplus to requirement by struggling Premiership club Queens Park Rangers.

Revenge against Germany in the final?

Brazil are the clear favourites to top Group E, against Serbia, Switzerland and Costa Rica, all decent but unexceptional sides. If they do win the group, they will face the runner-up from Group F, which Germany is widely expected to win, making Mexico or Sweden their likely opponents. Again, solid teams, but without star talent.

If Brazil get through to the final, Spain or Germany are seen as their most likely opponents. A Brazil-Spain clash would be a battle of two teams seeking to restore their glory after a fall from grace; Spain received almost as mortifying a drubbing as Brazil at the 2014 World Cup, losing 5-1 to the Netherlands in their opening match and failing to progress from the group stage.

A Brazil-Germany clash, meanwhile, would give the former a chance for revenge. Or it could give further proof to legendary England striker Gary Lineker’s famous definition of the sport: “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase the ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”

Date created : 2018-06-10

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