There might still be questions about the host’s squad, but the excitement in Brazil is palpable
“Under construction” is what best defines Brazilian soccer right now, one week before the Fifa Confederations Cup and a little over a year to the World Cup.
The new Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, the legendary stage for Pelé, Garrincha and Zico, is receiving the last touches of a major revamp.
The “Itaquerão”, a new stadium in São Paulo that will host the opening match of the World Cup, is still a building site.
The same applies to stadiums in Porto Alegre, Curitiba, Manaus and other host cities.
The national team, the “seleção”, is also a work in progress.
And if delays in stadiums and infrastructure projects are a major cause for concern, nothing compares with the panic that starts to grow among Brazilians when there is absence of a reliable team.
Since Luiz Felipe Scolari became the coach in November last year, he has tried multiple combinations to form a coherent squad.
Although he has built on the experiences of his predecessor, Mano Menezes, Felipão, or “Big Phil”, as Scolari is known, has tried new possibilities – and several questions are still left unanswered.
The first and foremost question, though, is who will lead the team on the pitch.
There is no doubt that Neymar, who has recently moved from Santos to Barcelona, is the biggest star in Brazilian soccer today.
But he is only 21 and is still untested in a major tournament.
Kaká and Ronaldinho, with much more experience, would be two obvious choices to wear the armband.
But Scolari doesn’t seem to rely on either of them – both were left out of the Confederations Cup squad and there is doubt over whether they will be in the World Cup team.
Goalkeeper Júlio César has been brought back from semiretirement, but he is no longer the same since his shocker in the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup against the Netherlands in Port Elizabeth.
But the team’s defence seems to be on firm ground with Thiago Silva (Paris Saint Germain) and David Luiz (Chelsea).
However, Daniel Alves (Barcelona) as right back and Marcelo (Real Madrid) on the left have been inconsistent.
The biggest headache for Scolari could be in central midfield, where there are some great players at his disposal in the form of Oscar and Ramires (both from Chelsea) and Lucas (PSG).
But it is still hard to guess what the formation and what the coach expects from his players.
In a recent interview, Scolari said he didn’t care about centre backs who score goals.
But then he apparently changed his mind again and now has high hopes for Paulinho, from Corinthians, a renowned goal scorer even though he is a classic central defender.
Against England at the not-quite-finished Maracanã Stadium last Sunday, Paulinho’s was the goal that equalised the match at 2-2 and saved the seleção from defeat.
But with a year to go before the World Cup, Scolari still has time to form a good team. In 2001, he was made coach under difficult circumstances and one year later led the seleção to a perfect tournament in Japan and South Korea.
With so many problems now, though, Brazilians don’t expect the team to win the Confederations Cup, but there’s no great tragedy in that.
In the last two editions of the Confederations Cup (2005 and 2009), the seleção triumphed only to fail miserably in the World Cups of Germany and South Africa the following years. Brazilians would rather lose now and win next year.
» Zanini is the Folha de São Paulo newspaper foreign editor. He covered the 2010 World Cup in South Africa
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