Brazil are the favourites to win this summer’s World Cup and with good reason. As hosts, they have a distinct natural advantage and it is well worth noting that the home side on average wins one in three World Cups. Beyond that though, their hugely experienced coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has assembled a very well balanced squad, fusing experience with youthful adventure. However, unlike the flamboyant all-attacking Brazilian sides of the past, Scolari’s 2014 side is probably strongest in defence and this steely determination is set to serve them well this summer.
The media hype surrounding Scolari’s team is focused squarely on one player – Neymar. The 22-year-old is unquestionably the jewel in Brazil’s crown and he has exceptional technique and creativity in the very best traditions of Brazilian football. There will be plenty of pressure on Neymar, but the Barcelona star showed that he can handle it during last year’s Confederations Cup success.
However, that is pretty much where the dazzling attacking samba football ends for Brazil. The only real concern for Scolari will be where the goals come from if not from Neymar. Hulk and Chelsea star Oscar are more than capable of supporting from midfield, but the spearhead of the Brazilian forward line is Fred. The fact that the 30-year-old has only amassed little over 30 caps in his career is indicative of a striker with patchy form. The Live World Cup odds are hardly making Fred favourite for the Golden Boot award this summer. However, the only real alternative as a lone striker is former-Manchester City man Jo, who has not scored an international goal for 286 minutes of playing time.
For once, it would seem that Brazil’s strength is in defence. Traditionally, Brazilian sides have scored plenty but have also been suspect at the back. Expect Scolari’s side to be different and keep the opposition at bay with ease. Key to this solidity is defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo. The Wolfsburg star has excelled for Brazil sitting in front of the back four and protecting the two centre-backs. Not only does this give Tottenham midfielder Paulinho the licence to push on, but the extra protection that it affords the defensive unit means that naturally-attacking full-backs Dani Alves and Marcelo can also get forward with regularity.
However, the heart of Brazil’s defensive strength is their centre-backs. Chelsea’s David Luiz and Paris St Germain anchor Thiago Silva have formed an excellent partnership and are a mean prospect for any attacking side to face. Of course, Luiz himself likes to push forward on occasion, but alongside Silva, he has formed an excellent defensive understanding.
Of course, even if either Luiz or Silva finds themselves sidelined through injury or suspension during the tournament, then Scolari has an excellent back-up in the form of Bayern Munich defender Dante. The back four as a whole can count on a wealth of top level experience and their solidity is enhanced by Julio Cesar in goal. Although he hasn’t played a great deal of football this season, Cesar’s performances at last summer’s Confederations Cup are just another reason why Scolari has every reason to be confident of a frugal defensive display during the World Cup.