Will Brazil Bounce Back?
Louise Wood explains why she believes Brazil will bounce back after the nightmare of 2014.
The 2014 World Cup may have been four years ago but the time since has passed by all too slowly for the Brazilian national team. The scars from the nightmare of July 8 still feel painfully fresh - for players and supporters.
On that night, a semi-final in Belo Horizonte, Brazil were not just beaten by Germany. They were eviscerated. The 7-1 defeat was beyond embarrassing, especially as it happened on home soil, in Brazil's home tournament. The hosts were a shamble. Neymar was missing with a back injury, David Luiz was at his hapless worst, and Germany ran riot - not so much ruthlessly efficient as clinical and punishing. They were five goals up inside the opening half an hour. Brazil's goal, from Oscar, came in the 90th minute. For the South Americans, it was arguably the lowest point in their international footballing history. Stunned coach Luiz Scolari called it the 'worst day of my life'.
This summer's tournament affords Brazil the chance for redemption. Scolari has gone; Brazil's coach is now Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, more commonly known by the nickname, Tite. The vast majority of those who started the semi-final horror show are not even in the squad of 23 for Russia. Only two players who were in the X1 that fateful day had been included - Real Madrid left-back Marcelo, and Manchester City's midfielder, Fernandinho. Thiago Silva and Neymar, who would have played against Germany in 2014 had they been available, are also in the squad - and probable starters again - but otherwise it feels like a completely clean sweep.
It is not quite out with the old and in with the new; after all, Silva, Marcelo, Filipe Luis, Fernandinho, Paulinho, Danilo, and Neymar have bags of experience, and many others are no strangers to big occasions. But the crucial difference between 2018 and 2014 may lie in the make-up of the squad. There is a youthful vibrancy to this group that suggests they deserve to be right up there as genuine challengers. Indeed, odds from bookmakers put them as one of the favourites to win the tournament; Brazil's odds from William Hill have them sweeping Group E with some ease. They might encounter some resistance from Serbia, but Switzerland and Costa Rica will not offer much in the way of a threat.
Where the Brazil team of 2014 relied too heavily on an old guard and a core of players who were past their best - Scolari was stubbornly loyal to the likes of veteran goalkeeper Julio Cesar, Hulk, Fred, Maicon, Luiz, and others - this year's squad is fresher, sharper and bolder. Brazil's attacking options are nothing short of frightening. Neymar, recovered from injury just in time for the tournament, will command much of the attention but the supporting cast is pretty impressive - Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, and Gabriel Jesus. That is a quartet that you will find hard to better anywhere else in the tournament, although all four are unlikely to start.
As well as the countdown to Neymar's return, the other talking point in the build-up to the big kick-off has been the tussle between Firmino and Jesus for a starting slot. Firmino is the more experienced and had the higher profile domestic season, with a critical role in Liverpool's run to the Champions League Final. Jesus was a Premier League champion with Manchester City, though his contribution was affected by a series of injuries. Still, Jesus is in coach Tite's thoughts. He was made the captain of the side for the recent friendly against Croatia, despite being the youngest member of the squad at 21 years of age.
So, Brazil has an embarrassment of riches in the attacking areas - as is often the case - but there are quality and strength in depth elsewhere, too. Allison and Ederson will compete for the starting goalkeeper spot, Danilo and Marcelo are mobile full-backs (though the loss of the injured Dani Alves is a blow) and Silva, even at 33, is a class act at centre-back. Alongside him, Paris St Germain colleague Marquinhos is starting to settle at this level.
There is an excellent blend of craft and graft in midfield, with Casemiro and Willian supporting Paulinho and Fernandinho. In all areas, this is a strong Brazilian squad.
Providing results go to form, Brazil might have the chance to avenge their 2014 humiliation in the best possible way. If they win Group E and Germany win Group F, the draw keeps them apart in the knockout stages until the final.
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About the Author
Louise Wood is an experienced journalist and blogger with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for writing.