World Cup Profile: Brazil back on course for glory

In the first of our profiles on the Latin American, Spainish and Portuguese teams who have qualified for next year’s much anticipated World Cup finals, Lewis Blakeman admires how the world’s most famous team, known affectionately as 'O Canarinho' (Little Canary) have got back on their feet after the disaster of 2014 thanks new manager Tite's back to basics approach.
by: 
Lewis Blakeman

Following the darkest day in the nation’s sporting history, Brazil have triumphantly risen from the ashes of their 7-1 defeat to Germany in Belo Horizonte, as they launch their campaign to become the first South American team to lift the World Cup trophy on European soil since 1958.

Brazil took some time to re-discover their famous flair following the embarrassment of the 2014 World Cup, with O Canarinho sitting precariously in sixth position in the CONMEBOL standings by June 2016. Dunga was fired, and in came Tite, a journeyman whose greatest managerial success came in 2012 when he led Corinthians to Club World Cup victory with a 1-0 win over European champions Chelsea.

Upon his arrival, Tite’s Brazil had a mountain to climb, both metaphorically and literally, with a tough away trip to Ecuador at altitude for its first match. Brazil came out 3-0 winners, almost unrecognisable in style from the team beaten 1-0 at home by Peru months earlier. Tite’s side then won their next eight fixtures to become the first nation to secure qualification alongside hosts Russia at the finals. Among the victories, a 5-0 demolition of Bolivia, and a 3-0 triumph over Argentina in the Estádio Mineirão – the setting of Brazil’s slaughter at the hands of Germany two and a half years earlier.

Since cementing their place at this summer’s World Cup, Brazil have faced England in a cagey friendly match at Wembley. Brazil dominated the play, but were unable to find a breakthrough as the game finished 0-0. Among the stand out performers on the night was Paulinho, whose resurgence has catalysed Brazil’s growth since Tite took the reins. In his first real test against non-South American opposition, Tite demonstrated that his side could seize control of a match, and on another day, would likely have deservedly won the tie.

 

 

The recent World Cup draw has plotted Brazil in a favourable group alongside Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia this summer. Having reached at least the quarter-finals in every World Cup since 1994, Brazil will be expected to cruise their way into the knockout stages, where Tite will have to prove that his side’s recent good form is more than just a honeymoon phase.

The key to any success Brazil may have will undoubtedly be Neymar - keen to make the leap into the elite tier of world football currently occupied by Cristiano Ronaldo, and former teammate Lionel Messi. Neymar shocked the football world during the summer transfer window by quitting Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain in a world-record transfer deal, reportedly in an attempt to free himself from the shadow of four-time Ballon d'Or winner Leo Messi.

This summer’s tournament is the perfect stage for the young Brazilian to stake his claim for football’s top individual honour, and to achieve something Messi has so far failed to do - win the World Cup for his country. He will have alongside him the likes of Roberto Firmino, Gabriel Jesus, Willian and Philippe Coutinho, all of whom play their club football in England; while captaining the side will be his club teammate Dani Alves, who is looking to add to his enormous collection of silverware won during an illustrious career.

As always, Brazil go into the World Cup among the favourites to lift the title for the sixth time in their history. Based on recent form, O Verde-Amarela look to have developed a strong spirit and identity, fuelled by a fervent desire to write the wrongs of 2014 and restore their great footballing nation’s pride and reputation.

 

 

THE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ederson. Since his summer move to Manchester City, Ederson has put in a number of top-class performances in the Premier League, including a stunning double save to help his club win the Manchester derby. He may only have one Brazil cap to his name - as Tite continues to keep his faith in Roma goalkeeper Alisson for the national side - but if Ederson keeps up his fine club form, he may well force himself into the number one jersey for Brazil’s World Cup squad.

Paulinho. Paulinho's recent resurgence has been nothing short of remarkable. Dubbed a 'flop' following his unspectacular spell with Tottenham Hotspur, Paulinho now plays an integral role in the Barcelona midfield, scoring 4 goals in 14 games since his €40 million move from China's Guangzhou Evergrande in the summer. Paulinho's energy and bursting runs from midfield will be key for Brazil during the World Cup.

Gabriel Jesus. Widely thought of as one of the world's most exciting young talents, Gabriel Jesus will see this summer’s World Cup as the perfect opportunity to announce himself on the world stage. His versatility across the front line makes him the perfect option alongside Brazil's main-man, and his close friend, Neymar.

Neymar. After injury ruled him out of the latter stages of the 2014 World Cup, Neymar will go into this summer’s tournament with extra motivation to lead his team to glory. His shootout-winning penalty in the 2016 Olympic Games final has shown that Neymar has the strength to carry his nation, while his 53 goals in just 83 games for Brazil make him one of the deadliest forwards in world football.