Brazil hosts the 2014 World Cup. While that has historically been a blessing, leading up to it can be a curse. No qualifying means going years without a meaningful, competitive match. When the team fails to win five friendlies in a row, it’s not clear whether that is lackluster effort given the circumstances, or a grim foretelling of what’s to come.
The Brazilians drew both their recent friendlies, against Italy and Russia, but looked outclassed often in both games. They lost 2-1 to England in February. They proceeded that with a 2-1 loss in the second leg of the Super Clasico to Argentina and a 1-1 draw with Colombia. Brazil had a strong run before that, but it’s hard not to playing opponents such as Iran, Gabon, South Africa, Iraq and China.
Coaching turnover has been an issue. Dunga was let go after 2010. His replacement Mano Manezes was just replaced by Luiz Felipe Scolari in November. “Big Phil” has an impressive international track record. He won the 2002 World Cup with Brazil. He also took Portugal to the Euro 2004 Final and the 2006 World Cup semifinal. That track record has gathered dust since 2008 though. Scolari flamed out at Chelsea. He took a lucrative sham job in Uzbekistan. He was fired by his Brazilian club a couple months before returning to Brazil.
If Parreira relied too much on talent in 2006 and Dunga trusted it too little in 2010, Scolari would provide the balance for 2014. The worrying part is his squad just may not be good enough. The “Next Generation” of Brazilian superstars never coalesced after the 2002/2006 teams, leaving Brazil with aging stars and unproven young players. Kaka or Ronaldinho was a great debate to be having, in 2005. Neymar has absurd ball skill, but has not proven himself against top opposition. Though opportunity abounds, few have grasped it.
The team has no world-class striker. The best option may be a middling placeholder such as Luis Fabiano or Fred. It’s no secret why Manezes experimented with a 4-6-0. There’s talent in midfield, but little experience or cohesion. The only unifying characteristic seems to be frailty in the face of determined opposition. The back four is star-studded and effective, if your goal is to bomb forward, not stay disciplined and clean up a mess in front. Even at goalkeeper, Brazil are hoping Julio Cesar can stay healthy.
Brazil has issues to work out. Expected to not just win the World Cup but do so in an aesthetically pleasant style, there’s almost no margin for error. The World Cup may be more than a year away, but if this malaise continues in front of the home fans at this summer’s Confederation Cup, the backlash and the pressure will become hellacious.
[Photo via Getty]