100 days to go: Brazil are just like their stadia - still a few pieces short
Of Brazil's 12 troubled venues for the World Cup, eight are either complete or very near it. Another, the one for the opener in Sao Paulo, might be finished just one month before the action begins.
As of today, when the 100-day countdown begins, the Seleção are in a similar state: coach Luiz Felipe Scolari still has four places up for grabs in his starting line-up. Like the tournament organisers, he is not making final preparations, but hurrying to make tough choices.
Scolari’s biggest worry is over No.9 Fred, a player he promised to stick with “no matter what”. The Fluminense striker who destroyed Spain in the Confederations Cup disappeared for six months, mainly because of a thigh injury. His comeback this February has been encouraging, having bagged a couple of goals in four matches in the very weak Carioca league. In the meantime, other strikers have raised their hands to take his place, namely Atlético Mineiro’s Diego Tardelli.
Tardelli is less deadly than Fred in the penalty box, but he moves around much more effectively. He is fast and skilled enough to step back into midfield when the opposition play a catenaccio system ['The Chain', a defensive set-up]. Team-mate Jô is likely to be in the final squad too, and is also a strong contender for the No.9 shirt - his style is similar to Tardelli’s, and he has the advantage of knowing Scolari well and playing under him for a year.
The worry about Brazil’s centre-forward role is so big that there is pressure in favour of players who would struggle to play for South Korea, the worst-ranked team in the World Cup (61st). Have you ever heard about Palmeiras’ Alan Kardec, Flamengo’s Hernane or Fluminense fatty Walter? Not many have. The shortage is so evident that former Inter Milan striker Adriano returned to football via Atlético Paranaense, played eight minutes and is now being considered.
If that striking issue endures, expect an even tougher reception for Spain’s Diego Costa. The Brazilian got a call-up from Scolari and even played twice for them last year in friendlies, only to plump for the world champions. The Atletico Madrid hitman was the missing piece Brazil needed to be feared up front - but not anymore.
The second biggest worry is goalkeeper Julio Cesar. He was no darling to many Brazilians after fumbling twice against Holland in the 2010 World Cup, and his return was already under heavy scrutiny. That was intensified further when Scolari said there was “no discussion” that he would remain Brazil’s No.1, but his strange move from QPR to Toronto sparked a wave of criticism. The great form of Botafogo’s Jefferson could see him get the nod. Scolari seems less sure.
If PSG’s Lucas Moura was doing just a little better in Ligue 1, Chelsea’s Oscar would probably feel far more threatened for his role in midfield. He hasn’t been particularly convincing under Scolari, but there is no one doing much better. Brazilian media watches out for anyone the coach brings in as a potential substitute, since it could be a matter of time for the tactical system to be changed. Kaká was tried, and failed. Robinho did a little better.
The final opening is in front of Brazil’s rock-solid defense. Wolfsburg’s Luiz Gustavo did the job during the Confederations Cup, but Chelsea’s Ramires is such a good player to bench that Scolari might have to find a way to change one for the other. Tottenham’s Paulinho, meanwhile, is a box-to-box player quite different in style to the aforementioned duo.
However, there is no doubt that the defence will be made up of Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Marcelo - even with Bayern Munich stopper Dante waiting in the wings.
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Paulinho will be there, just like Zenit’s Hulk, who plays an important role giving more power to the Seleção’s lightweight attack. Ultimately, though, World Cup poster boy Neymar will have to lead Scolari’s men to victory on home soil.
On Wednesday, Brazil play South Africa in Johannesburg. The remaining days will have to be kicked off convicingly for those who want to keep their places. On and off the pitch, Brazil isn’t ready for the World Cup just yet.