Scolari Finds the Perfect XI
By Alex Fairchild
France - check. Japan - check. Mexico - check. Italy - check. Uruguay.....
FIFA says that Brazil are the world's 22nd best team. Of the above four teams, three are ranked above the Confederations and World Cup hosts, but everybody knows that FIFA's rankings are a poor excuse to sell some advertising space on their site to Coca-Cola.
Nevertheless, there were many doubts about the Selecao heading into the tournament. After a loss months ago to England and a draw against the Three Lions just before the Confederations Cup, the Brazilians were in disarray. Scolari had not got the tactics right and nobody seemed to gel.
However, things have started to click at the right time for the yellow jerseys. While their compatriots have raided the country's streets protesting everything from bus fare hikes to corruption to Rio 2016, the men, who will look to bring their country its first World Cup since the days of Ronaldo, have shredded the champions of Asia, North America, and Europe's runner-up to one of the best international teams of all-time.
The team have a very strong tactical foundation that has shown in the past week or so. Scolari summons his XI in a 4-3-3, that can morph into a 4-2-3-1, depending on the play of one of the midfield trio.
Starting from the back, Julio Cesar has had a lock on the position for years. He had a highly successful career with Internazionale, before making the switch to now relegated Queens Park Rangers. There is no doubt that a keeper who has won the Champions League and Confederations Cup, though it was a footballing cycle ago, can maintain his athleticism for at least another year to earn his country glory in front of a home crowd.
Brazil's rear-guard have been under fire by many, even though they went three consecutive matches without conceding a goal. The makeup of Marcelo on the left and Dani Alves on the right playing as wing backs gives the team much attacking credit. In the modern game, the full backs are the most important men on the pitch, as they must be able to attack and defend in the process of making lung-busting runs.
Alves has been an important part of Barcelona for years. He has the ability to give his counterpart trouble. Marcelo has done the same for Real Madrid and during this tournament and he has shown that he can combine with Neymar.
Despite getting caught forward at times, both of these attacking full backs provide an outlet for the Brazil attack when Neymar and Hulk are instructed to get narrow. The backs have produced in the opening matches of the Confederations Cup. Against Mexico, Dani Alves pressed high up the pitch to stop an opposition throw-in. Brazil's pressure led to Alves receiving the ball on the right. His cross popped out to a wide open Neymar who made no mistake with a stunning volley. Meanwhile, Marcelo picked out Fred who laid the ball to Neymar for the first goal of the tournament.
In the middle, two distinguished centre-backs are in charge of marking the opposing strikers. Thiago Silva did very well for Paris Saint Germain, helping them to a Ligue 1 title. As a PSG player, he averaged just under three interceptions per game domestically and about four in the Champions League. Known for his ability to sniff out an attack, he can stand his ground as well. He averaged being passed by an attacker just once every three matches.
Silva's parter in crime, David Luiz, is slightly less disciplined. Tactically, Luiz has roamed out of position quite a few times, but that has changed since his arrival at Chelsea. Against Mexico, he did very well to track the runs of Javier Hernandez. Scolari put Luiz up against Chicharito due to the defender's experience shadowing "The Little Pea" in matches against Manchester United.
During the tournament, he has picked up a few injuries, including a broken nose that will require surgery. A "dead leg" saw him go off against Italy, but his tough guy mentality got him through a few more minutes on the pitch.
Rounding out those two is Bayern Munich's Dante. His value has gone up tremendously after his treble winning year in Germany. After coming on for David Luiz, he paired up well with Silva and snagged a goal before the break.
Dante's Munich teammate, Luiz Gustavo, is the anchor of the Brazilian midfield and sits in front of the team's back four clogging up the midfield whilst averaging four interceptions per match.
Paulinho was by his side in the opening two matches, though an ankle injury kept him out of the Italy clash. The box-to-box midfielder plies his trade for Corinthians. Like Luiz Gustavo, he has a strong defensive presence, but he can also get forward and his efforts against England saw him forward enough to level the match at 2-2 late on.
The out-and-out attacker of the bunch, Oscar, has had a rough run of form in the tournament. After breaking out during the previous U-20 World Cup, he has had a solid time at Chelsea. He has been steady enough to maintain a place in the team at Stamford Bridge and moments of brilliance, like his goal against Juventus, are giving all hope that he will be able to produce similar moments in the future.
On the left, everybody knows about Neymar's talent. The YouTube sensation was signed by Barcelona and has huge expectations awaiting him in Catalonia. There was quite the burden on him coming into this competition and he has handled it better than most expected, scoring three goals in three games, not to mention his brilliant assist for Jo.
In addition to playing on the left, the talisman can fit in behind the striker, be it Fred or Jo. During the Mexico game, he slid under Fred, playing off the striker in the second half. He started the Japan game in a similar fashion, thrashing an ingenious volley by the keeper via that position.
Hulk makes marauding runs down the right and the Zenit man did well at the Olympics last year. He can also make runs toward the middle of the pitch. In Brazil's most recent match against the United States, Hulk was a clear standout. He was unstoppable that night, as he used his power, pace, and enormous frame to break the USA’s backs.
Hulk has not produced the same form against the world powers of this tournament, but he still has another opportunity or two to prove his worth.
Meanwhile, the striker controversy was laid to rest on Saturday. After Jo came off the bench to strike twice in the first two games, Fred got two of his own. Fred's hold up play was good in the first couple of matches. In fact, it was his chest pass to Neymar that led to his teammate's wonder goal.
Like Hulk, Fred also brings strength to the team. His power was shown against Italy, as his first goal of the night saw him hold off his mark to get the space required to beat Buffon.
A plethora of options sit on the Brazilian bench. The aforementioned Dante is an excellent backup, as many say that three strong centre-backs are required to win a major tournament. Hernanes played understudy for Oscar when the 21 year old failed to produce against Mexico. His ability to push forward, as he did against Italy, but also to play as a traditional midfielder, make him a healthy option if Scolari needs a more dynamic foot solider.
Seemingly ignored is €40 million Lucas Moura. A possible replacement for Hulk or perhaps Oscar, the attacker was left out of PSG's team many times this year and is yet to start a match for his country at the Confederations Cup. He contributed to four goals for his French club this year, but has lots of work to do to live up to his price tag.
With so much in their arsenal, the Brazilians are quite the package. Similar to Spain, they manage to pack ample attack and defence into one side. Also, Scolari's team is more organized than Del Bosque's side. That is not to say that is a bad thing, as the Spanish have certainly made their tiki-taka system work.
Nevertheless, Brazil are a very capable outfit. With so many versatile players of an extremely high calibre, they fit together perfectly in their current shape and style. Like any classic team, there is a role for each player. Neymar is the star, Paulinho does the grunt work, Oscar is the pretty boy, David Luiz is that stranger with the odd hair, and Julio Cesar is the family's Yoda.
In addition to these personalties, their jobs on the pitch will mold. They have an excellent winger, a creative, yet pragmatic midfield trio, and defenders capable of shutting down opposing forays that are ready to push forward. With so much going on in this tactically flawless side, it seems that Scolari has assembled the perfect cast of characters. All stats from WhoScored.com